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Leafs Prospect D'Amigo Hit Stride At World Junior Hockey Championships

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
If your taste runs toward the Maple Leaf, Tuesday night was a banner night.

The Leafs, of course, played the Florida Panthers and came up with a key win at Air Canada Centre.

After the game ended, many patrons stayed in their seats and looked at the giant scoreboard or watched from the concourse monitors as Team Canada lost 6-5 in OT to  Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

While Nazem Kadri represented the Leafs for Canada, the American entry was led by an unlikely hero, at least if the NHL’s draft order is any indicator.

Jerry D’Amigo, a native of Binghamton, New York, went in the sixth round, 158th overall to the Maple Leafs in July.

Five-foot-10 and 190 pounds, D’Amigo scored a team-leading six goals (tied) at the tournament including two in the win that put the Americans into the tournament finals against Canada.

In the Championship game, he had a goal and an assist to finish the tournament with six goals and six assists for 12 points in seven games. He was also a plus seven.

A freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, D’Amigo impressed on the U.S. under-18 team where he scored 23 goals and clocked a team best 33 assists.

Suddenly, D’Amigo, the player passed over by 157 teams, has pushed his profile through the ceiling.

“He is a versatile, useful player,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said via e-mail from Saskatoon. “He’s conscientious, intelligent, coachable, sound defensively and positionally. He also has a strong work ethic.”

“He’s a pretty total hockey player,” said Team USA coach Dean Blais. “He has good vision, good speed. He makes plays and he is responsible all over the ice.”

All of which begs the question. If D’Amigo’s gifts were so obvious, why did the Leafs draft five players ahead of him? By the time a sixth-rounder reaches the stage at the draft, most of the sweaters and hats are gone. The kids in round six can be lucky to get bumper stickers.

It’s a question that requires some diplomacy from Leafs director of scouting Dave Morrison. You don’t want to crow about a player who hasn’t played a minute of pro hockey yet, nor one who so many of your peers passed over, nor one chosen behind five other prospects.

“We’re ecstatic,” Morrison said, “but he’s not an NHL player yet.”

But why did the kid go so late?

“I think it was a little bit about his skating and a little bit about his size,” Morrison said. “But maybe his skating is better than we thought he was and maybe he wasn’t as small as he seemed.”

D’Amigo has worked diligently on his skating. The Americans were breathtakingly fast and D’Amigo was right there with them.

“He will have to work on a lot of things,” said Morrison who sees D’Amigo as a left winger. “He needs to get stronger, he may need to work on his shot but he is the kind of kid who will do the work. What we really like about him is his imagination and on-ice intelligence. Those are his best qualities.”

Morrison said that when D’Amigo was still on the big board going into round six, the Leafs table followed a strict scouting protocol.

“We stopped talking about him. Whenever we talk about a player, it seems like someone else always takes him.”

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