Hamblin is Oilers’ Feel-Good Story Heading into Training Camp

As expected, highly-touted Edmonton Oilers prospects Xavier Bourgault and Dylan Holloway shone brightly at the Young Stars Classic, which ran from Friday (Sept. 16) to Monday (Sept. 19) in Penticton, B.C., as part of the 2022 Oilers Rookie Camp.

Edmonton’s rookies went 3-0 in the exhibition showcase for NHL prospects, which also featured lineups representing the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.

Related: NHL Rumors: Flames, Oilers, Maple Leafs, Senators

Playing on their team’s top line, left winger Holloway (14th overall pick in the 2020 draft) and right winger Bourgault (22nd overall in 2021), ranked first and third among the Oilers prospects with five and three points, respectively.  

Right between the two first-rounders, both on the ice and among the scoring leaders, was center James Hamblin, who chipped in four points. The undrafted and much less-heralded prospect scored two of Edmonton’s three game-winning goals in Penticton and his two assists tied for the team lead. 

Oilers’ Top Prospects Thrive with Hamblin 

While many might glance at the stats and just assume that Hamblin’s impressive numbers were a by-product of playing with Bourgault and Holloway, those who watched the Young Stars games can tell you that the duo benefitted from playing alongside Hamblin.

As a trio they were dominant, and the biggest reason that the Oilers swept their games at the South Okanagan Events Centre, defeating Winnipeg 3-2, Calgary 4-1, and Vancouver 5-2. 

The most eagerly anticipated forward prospects in Oil Country, Bourgault and Holloway are destined for the NHL, the latter having already made his NHL debut in the 2022 Playoffs.  

Hamblin, on the other hand, isn’t a name that the average Oilers fan would have even recognized. He’s scratching and clawing, tooth and nail, just get a sniff at an opportunity in the big leagues. 

Whether the 5-foot-9 forward gets there this season, next year, or ever, remains to be seen. But as his sensational play of the last week has brought his backstory to light, Hamblin is the guy everyone is rooting for to succeed.

Hamblin Makes Most of Opportunities 

The journey has never been easy for Hamblin, who was born and raised in Edmonton. Only a couple of months after he was passed over in the 2017 NHL Draft, he tragically lost his mother, Gina, to cancer just as he was beginning his third season in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Medicine Hat Tigers. 

Hamblin served as team captain during his final two seasons with the Tigers, 2018-19 and 2019-20, and ended his WHL career with 115 goals and 168 assists in 323 games, which were the sixth most in Tigers’ history.

James Hamblin Bakersfield Condors
James Hamblin, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

After he was named to the WHL Eastern Conference First All-Star Team in April 2020, Hamblin finally got his break, signing a two-year American Hockey League (AHL) contract with the Bakersfield Condors, AHL affiliate of his hometown Oilers.

As a rookie with the Condors in the shortened 2020-21 season, Hamblin appeared in 38 games, notching seven goals and eight assists. He made strides in his first full-length season in the pros, tying for second on the team with 21 goals, while leading all Bakersfield forwards with a plus-20 rating as he suited up for 64 games in 2021-22. 

The Oilers took notice. In March, the NHL club signed Hamblin to a two-year entry-level contract (ELC) commencing with the 2022-23 season.

Hamblin Wears the ‘C’ for Prospects

It says something about how highly the organization regards Hamblin that he was bestowed the captain’s ‘C’ for the Young Stars Classic. 

“He’s someone that is ‘Mr. Do It Right’,” Condors head coach Colin Chaulk said in an article published Sunday (Sept. 18) on the Oilers website. “You talk about coaches’ favourites, and I have favourite players. My favourite players are the ones that are good people, work hard, and do it right. James became a favourite player because of his performance. 

“Whether it’s blocking a shot, whether it’s scoring a big goal or doing the little things, he’s someone that does it. There are many others as well, but he’s grown into that role and I’m just excited personally to see him having some success and for you guys to see it as well.” 

Oilers‘ Training Camp Gets Underway

Next up is Oilers training camp, which began with medicals and fitness testing on Wednesday (Sept. 21) ahead of the first on-ice sessions Thursday (Sept. 22). Edmonton opens its preseason schedule at home against the Jets on Sunday (Sept. 25). 

This will be the second NHL preseason for Hamblin, who dressed for two games last year and scored the game-winning goal in Edmonton’s 4-0 victory over Calgary on Sept. 26, 2021. 

How serious of a look he gets and how much of an impact he makes this preseason remains to be seen. It’s one thing to look good as a 23-year-old with two years of pro experience playing against 19-year-olds who are still in junior. It’s another to keep pace with NHL vets.

He’s the feel-good story coming out of Oilers rookie camp. Now Oil Country will see if Hamblin’s quest to make the NHL this fall has a happy ending.

Sign up for our regular 'Oilers Newsletter' for all the latest.