The score is tied at zero in the Mile High City at the halfway point in the second period. Dougie Hamilton snaps a pass into the neutral zone to Andrei Svechnikov and instinctively skates up ice to join the rush. As Svechnikov is taken down just over the red line, Justin Williams reclaims the loose puck and taps it over to Hamilton as he enters the offensive zone.
At this point, Carl Soderberg is hung out with a poor gap on Hamilton as he carries the puck into the high slot with Jordan Staal streaking towards the back door. Soderberg’s first move is to get his stick into the lane to protect the pass, but quickly corrects as he sees Dougie winding up. It was too late. The offensive D-man snaps one over Philipp Grubauer’s shoulder for his 13th goal of the season and his 12th at even strength — a personal best.
That sequence was just another example of why Dougie Hamilton is arguably the most offensively gifted defenseman in Carolina Hurricanes history. Since the 2015-16 season, Hamilton is 4th in the NHL in goals and 21st in total points. And he remains on track this season — his 13 goals are tied for fifth best in the league among defensemen.
Yet despite his elite offensive nature, he still remains fourth on the team in time on ice per game played among defensemen. The fact that he’s not coming in at first on the blue line in time on ice isn’t really shocking considering the shutdown strength of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. However, it’s difficult to rationalize why he’s receiving three fewer minutes of ice time per game and over a minute less on the power play per game than Justin Faulk when all signs point to Hamilton being one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL.
Hamilton is third in the league among defensemen in Scoring Chances For percentage at 60.17%*, indicating that the team is generating scoring chances a lot more often than they’re conceding them when he’s on the ice. That’s not very surprising considering the fact that the team outshoots the crap out of opponents during his shifts — his Shots For percentage is also third in the league amongst defensemen at 59.48%.
Much of his offensive success in Calgary was downplayed by naysayers as a product of playing alongside one of the best defensemen in the league in Mark Giordano. But there’s evidence to support the notion that Hamilton is driving a lot of the Hurricanes’ positive play while he’s on the ice this season. He’s third in the league among blue liners in shots, Individual Corsi For, and Individual Scoring Chances For. The two defensemen above him in all of three those categories? Brent Burns and Roman Josi. That’s pretty good company to be keeping as a 25-year-old defenseman.
Despite his elite offensive presence, the coaching staff clearly doesn’t trust his defensive game. He’s tallied by far the least shorthanded ice time of the top six defensemen at just 17 seconds per game, and he starts shifts in the defensive zone at a lower rate than all of his teammates. But though he shoulders significantly less defensive responsibility than his teammates, Hamilton still isn’t leading the team in power play time or offensive zone starts.
This isn’t about bashing Justin Faulk, he’s part of the leadership group as a career Hurricane and is a very talented offensive D-man in his own right — he’s top 20 or better among defensemen in most of the metrics that I’ve cited above. It’s easy to lose sight of that in his eighth season as a top four defensemen on a playoff-less team. But Faulk is no longer the best offensive defenseman on the roster, and there’s no reason why he should continue to see significantly more power play time than Hamilton.
*among defensemen who have logged at least 500 minutes of ice time this season