VANCOUVER — Playing for the Calgary Flames, defenceman Travis Hamonic got a close-up view of the Vancouver Canucks' skilled, young talent.
Going up against the likes of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat wasn't easy, he said.
After signing a one-year, US$1.25-million deal with the Canucks Tuesday, Hamonic will only have to worry about defending against the Canucks' young guns in practice.
“It’s certainly a lot nicer to be on this side of things," he said on a video call Tuesday.
Being around that kind of talent has benefits, added Hamonic, who was drafted 53rd overall by the New York Islanders in 2008.
"As a player, you want that opportunity and I think that’s a pretty intriguing aspect of your career and your playing ability, to be surrounded by people who have different skills than you have and can maybe help you along the way as well," he said.
Hamonic heads to Vancouver as a veteran on the blue line, having played 637 NHL games while collecting 188 points (37 goals, 151 assists) and 591 penalty minutes.
He spent the last three seasons in Calgary, and in 2019-20 averaged 21:12 minutes per game with three goals and nine assists. He opted out of the playoffs citing family considerations.
The 30-year-old native of St. Malo, Man., entered free agency in October and said he had talks with a number of teams.
“We felt the most excited by the conversations we had with the Canucks," he said.
Vancouver signed Hamonic to a professional tryout contract on Jan. 3. He had to complete a seven-day quarantine, though, before he could join training camp activities because he travelled from Winnipeg.
"Maybe it took a little bit longer than I would have liked at the time, but it all worked out the way it was supposed to in the end," the defenceman said.
“I knew I was going to get an opportunity at some point and I knew that I had to be ready when it was going to come.”
Once he finally got on the ice in Vancouver, Hamonic skated with Hughes, who was runner up for the NHL's rookie of the year award last season.
Whether the duo will be play together when the season starts remains to be seen, but Hamonic sees the potential pairing as an exciting opportunity.
"He’s a pretty special player, a pretty dynamic player. So if that’s how it’s going to go, I’ll just put the puck in his hands and let him do the work and I’ll just be there to back him up," he said.
Hamonic hopes he'll be able to help the 21-year-old phenom in some situations, too.
"I’ve been in the league for a little while now, so I’m hoping maybe there are some things (Hughes) can lean on and ask me (about) and I can try to give some advice here and there," he said. "But for the most part, I’ll just try to stay out of his way on the ice.”
While he hasn't played an NHL game since Feb. 8, Hamonic travelled with the Canucks to Edmonton where they're set to open the season against the Oilers on Wednesday.
Vancouver's newest player said he'll speak with coach Travis Green about playing, but he feels ready to jump in.
“I’m healthy, I’m ready to go, I’m certainly eager as I could ever be to play," Hamonic said. "I feel like I can get up to speed pretty quickly here.”