Depth, depth, and more depth has been a resounding topic for the Edmonton Oilers since I became a fan in the early 2000s. However, what makes James Hamblin’s story extremely special is when that depth becomes a dream come true for now an Edmonton Oiler player who idolized players like Janne Niinimaa, Ryan Smyth, and Ales Hemsky.
Who is James Hamblin?
Hamblin’s NHL story cannot be considered conventional but more accurately represents his determined persona on the ice. His player profile compares to that of an individual who followed a similar career path, Yanni Gourde; a comparison made only recently upon his debut. Hamblin profiles as an undersized forward; he is 5’9″, 175 lbs, and is known to work his way up and down the lineup in a versatility role. Throughout his junior and professional career, his tenacity enabled him to be a fierce forechecker who could shut down opposing top-line players and uses his exemplary hockey smarts and positioning to contribute offensively.
As mentioned, his career path is different from usual. One interesting tidbit, the 2012–13 Southside Athletic Club must have been a powerhouse team, as it contained not one, not two, but three current Edmonton Oilers. Tyler Benson led the club in scoring, Hamblin finished eighth, and Stuart Skinner backstopped the team. Finishing eighth was a success as Hamblin was an underage player on the team, continually facing off against opposition that were bigger and older than himself. Although, as Hamblin demonstrated, his size would not be a limiting factor in his career, leading the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers in scoring in his final two seasons, finishing third among all WHL point-getters, netting 36 goals and 56 assists.
However, he would go undrafted, signing with the Edmonton Oilers farm team, the Bakersfield Condors, in the 2020–21 season. During that year, Hamblin would go on to lead all Condors rookies in goals. Before finally getting his call-up to the parent club during the Oiler’s most recent injury plague, where four of the top nine forwards were knocked out.
Hamblin’s numbers thus far in his career
Hamblin’s AHL career highlights his development and growth in the Oilers’ farm system. As mentioned, Hamblin led all Condors rookies in goals scored during the 2020–21 season, including outscoring Raphael Lavoie, a highly touted offensive-minded 2019 second-round pick. Continued growth is seen throughout Hamblin’s additional two years, finishing fifth overall in scoring among Condors players in 2021–22, tying for second in goals during that season. However, Hamblin scored at a 3% rate above his career average shooting percentage.
His start to the 2022–23 Condors season was cut short by his call-up to the Oilers, but Hamblin was on pace to set career highs in points, assists, and shots, thereby providing reasoning for his promotion. Additionally, his career highs came while posting the worst shooting percentage of his professional career.
Hamblin’s NHL career has yet to be as successful, though he has been used primarily in a depth role. However, he has produced underlying solid metrics. Given that he has only played roughly 60 minutes, his expected goals equivocate to around one goal generated, implying that he should score once every six games or eight goals for the rest of the season. He has also posted a C% above 50%, suggesting he is controlling the puck possession shot metric.
Furthermore, Hamblin has performed very well as a centreman and is developing a persona of a reliable player to take faceoffs, winning 21 out of 34 draws or 61.8%. Unfortunately, Hamblin has posted just under league-average totals for XG% implying that although he is very much controlling the shot quantity, they may not be coming from the high-danger areas, and the quality of shots being taken is lacking relative to opposition chances.
Early impact on the Oilers
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Hamblin’s Oiler tenure role has been as a bottom-six player. However, he has since been elevated from the fourth to the third line, and analyzing Hamblin’s lines’ underlying metrics provides reasoning for the promotion. First, Hamblin’s playing time per the ten-minute benchmark means that his play only qualifies when on two lines averaging roughly 20 minutes apiece, indicating how evaluation is of a small sample size.
The best line combination occurred when Hamblin’s flanked by fellow rookie Dylan Holloway and strong possession player Jesse Puljujarvi. Although this line has only played together for 20 minutes, it has shown the ability to contain great potential. Not only does this line control shots for and against, but it also generates greater quality chances than the competition. Per 60 minutes, this matchup of players contributes strongly offensively, creating roughly almost an extra goal and a half against opponents, contrary to what opposing teams can against this line.
This line ranks fourth among all Oilers’ line combinations at limiting expected goals against per 60 minutes. There could be a few factors, as Puljujarvi is very good at controlling shot share and quality but with limited results on the scoresheet. Secondarily, all three players are speedy and aggressive forecheckers, allowing them to create chances through hits and takeaways. Helping mitigate chances against while simultaneously keeping the puck 200 feet away from their defensive end.
Hamblin’s other qualified line switches Puljujarvi for Brad Malone and shifts Hamblin to the wing. This line is less effective as a combination, yet it still showcases an above-league-average ability to create a more significant number and quality of chances against opposing teams. Additionally, this player blend’s ability to generate opportunities for and against is reasonably even, implying Hamblin’s play on this line may not be as impactful on the wing as when deployed as a centreman. It may also result from the tradeoff and skill between having Puljujarvi compared to Malone.
Although Holloway has posted sub-league norm analytical measurements, his play alongside Hamblin performs above the NHL league average. It could result from the chemistry built together during their minors, or their skill level is greater than that of the opponents they face.
Hamblin will have to prove he deserves a spot on the lineup
First impressions reveal Hamblin has risen to the NHL challenge of being a depth player. Proving that Hamblin is living up to his pre-draft profile of limiting chances while creating offense against opponents, though in a minimal sample size.
Hamblin’s play has been most successful when paired with Holloway and Puljujarvi, indicating that he elevates Holloway while Puljujarvi helps both rookies control shot quality and quantity. However, the lack of results may hinder Hamblin’s NHL tenure as reinforcements show up due to players returning from injuries, namely Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele.
In the eyes of Oilers management, he is a proven success story climbing the ranks from undrafted signing to NHL depth role. It will be intriguing to see how the numbers game plays out and whether Hamblin has proven to Ken Holland that he deserves an NHL role over Brad Malone and Devin Shore.
All stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com, sportsforecaster.com, theahl.com, and MoneyPuck.com
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire