Curtis Hamilton has reminded everyone the past week why he once was a top prospect after strong performances at the Under-18 and Under-20 junior world championships.
Since he turned pro, Hamilton scored only 10 goals his first 117 games over three seasons with the Barons. In the next two games, he lit the lamp four times.
Hamilton recorded the first two-goal game of his pro career a week ago and followed with another two-goal game on New Year's Eve in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Texas Stars.
“Coach (Todd Nelson) and the staff keep telling me I need to shoot more,” Hamilton said. “I'm getting more opportunities. Early in the year I was hitting the post some. Now some of those are going in. It's only two games. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Hamilton will try to keep it going Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center when the Barons host the San Antonio Rampage.
Given a more pivotal role, Hamilton looks more like the player who four years ago scored five points in six games at the Under 18 World Juniors. Two years later, Hamilton scored four goals and was Team Canada's second-leading scorer behind Flyers rising star Brayden Schenn at the Under 20 junior world event.
“Those are fond memories. Every time you get to play for your country it's always special,” Hamilton said. “Part of pro hockey is continuing to play well against guys who played with and against growing up. You have to respect them but not respect them too much.”
Barons general manager Bill Scott said it's not uncommon for players like Hamilton, a 2010 second-round pick selected 48th overall, to need time to adapt after turning pro at age 20.
“You knew he had played well in big pressure situations at world events,” Scott said. “He sees an opportunity here and is taking full advantage. This is the best hockey we've ever seen him play.”
Hamilton, who turned 22 over the holidays, got a late start to the 2013-14 season after suffering a torn ACL in the first round of last year's playoffs. He returned in late November and has steadily elevated his game as he's moved up the depth chart.
“Curtis came back in great shape,” Scott said. “In practices leading up to his first game back, you sensed a renewed joy for the game. He's shooting the puck hard. He's always had a heavy shot. He's finishing checks and has a little more quickness.
“You add all those things up, he's a guy playing with confidence who is being rewarded for all his hard work.”
With Linus Omark traded to Buffalo and former Barons Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander in Edmonton, Oklahoma City doesn't have a player listed among the AHL's top 70 scorers.
Playing on a line with fellow third-year pros Tyler Pitlick and Ryan Martindale, Hamilton supplying steady offense could bolster a roster that's undergone 90 transactions.
“Curtis is hanging onto the puck a bit longer. That's the biggest difference I've noticed,” Nelson said. “He's playing with more confidence. We're going to need everybody, including Curtis, to chip in on offense.”
It's a crossroads season for Hamilton. In the third and final year of his entry-level contract, Hamilton will be a free agent if the Oilers don't re-sign the Kelowna, British Columbia, product next summer.
“I'm taking it day by day,” Hamilton said. “You can never look too far ahead. I've had to work my way up. This year with all the changes they're trying to develop more young players. I'm getting more of a chance.
“The past couple of years there have been a lot of opportunities in Edmonton's organization. It's like a carrot dangling if front of you if you play well. But my focus is improving every day, working hard and helping this team here win games.”