Dougie Hamilton said he’s got more to give as he begins the next chapter of his NHL career with the New Jersey Devils.
“I definitely think I can get better, that’s for sure,” Hamilton said Thursday. “I’ve never really been satisfied with my game, my skills or my off-ice workouts, so I’m always trying to improve every day. I think about new things to get better, how I can be better, so I think that’s kind of my goal … to see what I can become and push myself to try to be the best I can be.”
The 28-year-old defenseman, who was an unrestricted free agent, agreed to a seven-year, $63 million contract ($9 million average annual value) with the Devils on Wednesday.
He scored 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 55 regular-season games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, and five points (two goals, three assists) in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He leads NHL defensemen in goals (59) since 2017-18.
“I’ve seen these guys, I’ve played against a lot of them, and they’re tough to play against, skilled, fast, dynamic, and I feel like I can fit in with them well, be a leader on that team and help the young guys,” Hamilton said. “They’ll push me to be better, as well. There’s a lot of really good pieces, so I’m excited to be a part of that and looking forward to taking the next steps with them.”
Hamilton led Hurricanes defensemen in scoring in each of his three seasons after being acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames on June 23, 2018.
“I was traded to the Hurricanes a couple years ago and they were kind of in a similar boat, on the rise with a lot of young guys, and I was able to be a part of that and help the growth of their team,” Hamilton said. “When I looked at New Jersey’s team, there were so many young, talented players. I’m really excited to play with them and help.
“I’m sure they’ll help me as well, so I’m looking forward to that for sure.”
The Devils (19-30-7) finished seventh in the eight-team MassMutual East Division last season, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third season in a row and eighth time in the past nine.
“He’s a player we felt would not only impact our team now, but when we’re really at the level where we want to be once we hit what we call the championship run,” New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.
“I like our defense corps. I think from top to bottom we’ve got speed, size, puck-movers. The goal is not to play in our end. … Go back for pucks, get it, move it out quickly. That’s what Dougie can bring, along with Damon Severson, P.K. Subban, Ty Smith, Ryan Graves and Jonas Siegenthaler. These guys know how to move pucks, and that’s important.”
New Jersey acquired Graves in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for forward Mikhail Maltsev and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on July 15.
Hamilton should improve the Devils power play, which ranked 28th in the NHL (14.2 percent) last season. He has scored 104 power-play points (28 goals, 76 assists) in 607 regular-season games, and last season led Carolina in ice time per game with the man-advantage (3:03).
“I love [the power play], to be honest. Everything about it,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s a fun challenge being out there with so many skilled players when the other team is trying to shut you down, and that’s your challenge to find different ways to score. It’s a little bit of like a chess match, so it’s a lot of fun and hopefully I can bring some of that to New Jersey.”
Hamilton said he had brief talks with Fitzgerald and Martin Brodeur, who is an executive vice president with the Devils.
“Brodeur and Fitzgerald are two ex-NHL players who have had amazing careers and understand hockey, understand culture, and I think as a player, you want to learn from guys like that,” Hamilton said “You want to be around guys like that, and I think that’s definitely exciting. Just to kind of see their vision and what they want to do with the team and how it’s a first-class organization, it’s exciting.
“I spend so much time at the rink and am kind of a rink rat, love being at the rink, and having the practice rink in the same building as [Prudential Center] is pretty convenient as well. There’s just so many good things. I think it’s going to be exciting on the ice playing with these guys, and I hope I can become a better player and help the team get better as well.”