Luke DeCock

Hamilton setting records as he settles in with Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov (37), of Russia, puts the puck in the empty net against the New York Islanders during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Carolina Hurricanes’ Andrei Svechnikov (37), of Russia, puts the puck in the empty net against the New York Islanders during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

There were defensemen sliding everywhere, the New York Islanders falling at Dougie Hamilton’s feet in a desperate attempt to stop him. Adam Pelech went sliding past to one side, Ryan Pulock to the other. Hamilton had one thought on his mind as he navigated the traffic on one leg.

“I was shooting the whole way,” Hamilton said.

And then he slung a pass through the crease instead to a wide-open Teuvo Teravainen for a tap-in goal

“You’ve got to pass when it’s that easy,” Hamilton said.

That’s how things are going for Hamilton these days. Easy. And for the Carolina Hurricanes, too. The team can do no wrong, now 5-0-0 for the first time in franchise history after Friday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders. Neither can Hamilton, who scored his third goal and picked up his fourth assist, tying the franchise record shared by Mark Howe and Risto Siltanen for points by a defenseman to start the season.

There’s so much going right for the Hurricanes right now. Other than a lull to start the second period and some penalty-killing issues, Friday’s win was a start-to-finish dominant win over a division opponent with revenge on its mind. (It was not to be had, on the ice or in the stands: When the Islanders fans piped up, the home fans drowned them out by chanting “Sweep!”)

Even amid all that, it’s hard to find anyone who’s going better than Hamilton. When he was on the ice Friday, the five-on-five scoring chances were 19-2 in favor of the Hurricanes. It’s so far from last season, when he started slowly before playing through the middle of the season with a broken finger. This is everything that was expected of him from the moment he was drafted ninth overall in 11, everything expected of him in Boston and Calgary, everything expected of a defenseman with his physical gifts and talents.

“Opportunity is probably the biggest thing,” Hamilton said. I’m just trying to make the most of it. I wanted this opportunity for a while so it’s nice to have it and I’m just trying to do my best.”

Hamilton now understands what the Hurricanes demand from him, with and without the puck, and it shows. Whatever adjustment was needed to Rod Brind’Amour’s system is complete. There’s an ease to his game that wasn’t there before, the kind only time and repetition can create. In the process, he’s earned the defensive trust of the coaching staff. That means more ice time in more situations, especially paired with Jaccob Slavin.

At the same time, the Hurricanes have a better idea of what Hamilton can do, what makes him tick. They’re willing to let him play his way as long as he meets them halfway, which he has.

“I think it’s his commitment, totally,” Hurricanes coach Brind’Amour said. “I think he’s more comfortable for sure with our system and how we want to play. There was a period I’m sure when he first got here when there was an adjustment to the whole think, but now he looks comfortable and he’s obviously playing great.”

Perhaps for the first time in his career, Hamilton is empowered and unencumbered, playing with an easy freedom that suits his ability.

“Sometimes, not all the time,” Hamilton said. “When things are going good you want to keep that feeling as much as you can. It makes it easier coming here this year, knowing everyone and everyone knows me, just being comfortable compared to last year. Just feeling good right now and trying to make the most of it.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone making more of it than this. He’s playing like the two-way defenseman the Hurricanes always wanted, and the one he always wanted to be.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.