RALEIGH — His minutes are up. So are his goals, points and responsibilities.
He and his team are off to a great start, drawing more and more fans in a non-hockey market.
“I don’t know if I’m any more comfortable here than I was in Boston or Calgary — it’s all just people talking,” said Hamilton following practice at PNC Arena Monday.
“I was comfortable everywhere I’ve been. It’s the same sort of situation. It feels the same to me.”
Hamilton has long bristled at the long-held notion he was a bit of an outcast as a Bruin and Flame, sparking the legendary suggestion that while his teammates gathered on the road, Hamilton would choose a museum instead.
He’s since had fun with the tale, revealing last season he was greeted in Carolina by free passes to a local museum.
As someone who never seemed thrilled about being in the spotlight and the scrutiny that came with it, it seemed clear he’d probably love life in a city and organization where hockey received much less attention.
Whatever the reason, Hamilton has exploded out of the gates this season, leading all blue liners with six goals and sitting fifth with 12 points.
In the absence of recently-traded Justin Faulk, Hamilton is enjoying first-pairing assignments alongside Jaccob Slavin and running the first power-play unit.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can to embrace that,” said Hamilton, averaging a career-high 23 minutes of ice time a night.
“It’s always easier the second year around, just being comfortable with everything. Coming here and having friends and knowing the city and staff and everything — it makes it easier. It has been fun so far. Pucks are going in right now and obviously it’s nice when that happens.”
Sure helps that the Hurricanes have picked up where they left off late last year when they not only captured the imagination of this college sports haven with their post-win Storm Surge celebrations, but by getting to the conference final as a wild card.
“It was a lot of fun for us as a team and the city to get the fans going again here,” said the soft-spoken, six-foot-six, 229-pound Hamilton, whose Hurricanes are 7-3-1.
“It was really cool to see that. We’re just trying to keep the momentum going here and hopefully we can make the playoffs. It’s been fun seeing the growth of the team here.”
Hamilton said the run has him being recognized around town now — something that used to happen daily in his previous destinations. He sure looked relaxed in a recent video put out by the team showing him scootering and hanging around teammates Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele.
Coach Rod Brind’Amour said Hamilton is certainly more at home on the ice too.
“He’s way more engaged right from the start,” said Brind’Amour of the second-year ’Cane who arrived here via a blockbuster trade with Calgary at the 2018 draft.
“I think it takes a little time sometimes when you come from another organization to really be yourself. You know what you are capable of, but you’re a little bit on your heels, taking it all in and learning a new system. Once he grasped it, the second half of last year he took off. He started right from there this year.”
Hamilton said there have been plenty of things at play that have contributed to his success and that of the ’Canes.
“Obviously the new owner came in and changed a bunch of things — he’s really been trying to get that fan interaction and the culture of the team,” said Hamilton of Tom Dundon.
“We had (captain Justin) Williams last year, doing the Storm Surge and I think that helped the team, and obviously when you win it makes everything easier. Fans are going to show up when you win and we did a good job at the end of last season doing that.
“We created so much buzz in the city and coming back this season there’s so much buzz around us, which is exciting.”
The most fun he’s ever had?
He’s still not biting.
“I’ve had a lot of good times and memories and good stretches of hockey, so I wouldn’t say it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, no,” he said.
Perhaps the best is yet to come.