Maple Leafs call up AHL All-Star Game MVP

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going with the hot stick.

The club recalled Toronto Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton Thursday morning just days after the forward scored a hat trick and won MVP honours at the American Hockey League’s All-Star Game.

After the Leafs sent defenceman Jake Gardiner down to the Marlies Wednesday, a spot opened up. Another call-up candidate was Tim Connolly; the 31-year-old veteran has scored three goals in three games since being sent down to the Marlies.

But Hamilton, who has played just two NHL games, got the call in advance of the Leafs’ home game Thursday against the Washington Capitals.

“I personally believe Ryan Hamilton is right there knocking on the door,” Marlies coach Dallas Eakins told Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Tuesday. “He’s right in the mix there. I think it goes to show you, sometimes we forget that players progress at different rates. I’m constantly asked about two or three players that are all very young, and for some reason everybody forgets there’s other guys there too that are still trying to make it.”

Hamilton, a 27-year-old native of Oshawa, Ont., is playing in his seventh AHL season and is on pace for his third 20-goal campaign in the second-tier pro circuit. He was called up to the Leafs for just a pair of games last March, during which he registered an assist in his NHL debut.

After four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, the Minnesota Wild signed Hamilton as a free agent back in July of 2006. The young winger was hot off a 46-goal campaign for the Colts.

But after a stint with the Wild’s Houston Aeros farm club, Hamilton was shipped to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Robbie Earl.

Since joining the Marlies, team captain Hamilton has steadily improved as he gets deeper into his 20s. He’s a big guy — 6’2″, 230 pounds — who perhaps didn’t get much of a look from the Leafs earlier this month due to NHL’s shortened training camp, a result of the lockout.

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