There wasn't a lot of buzz when the Dallas Stars selected Riley Damiani in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center, but one year later that's changed.
A strong season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League helped Damiani earn an entry-level contract with Dallas and land an invitation to Canada's National Junior Team development camp. And now the 19-year-old forward is starting to look like a strong prospect and an intriguing late-round pick.
Damiani tallied 85 points (30 goals, 55 assists) in 58 games, finishing 16th in the league in points, 12th in points per game (1.47), and 10th in assists.
"I got put in the right opportunities," Damiani said. "I was put in the right spot by my coaches, and everyone really helped me. I had a really good supporting cast as well. With our power play clicking the way it did in junior, at around 30 percent, obviously the point totals are going to climb a little bit."
Forty-one of Damiani's points (10 goals, 31 assists) came on the Kitchener power play, which was tops in the OHL at 29.0 percent. Damiani ranked fourth in the league in power play points and fourth in power play assists. Damiani, who served as an alternate captain for Kitchener, played on the penalty kill as well.
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"He really grabbed a leadership role. I think they lost quite a few guys from their Kitchener team a few years ago and he took a leadership role," said Rich Peverley, the Stars' player development coordinator. "He was a first-line center, played every situation. The biggest thing that I saw in his game was his passing. He's, I think, one of the best passers in the league. Very crisp and accurate passes, dead on.
"He really took a big jump, and you can see the growth."
Damiani's numbers might have been even a little better last season, but he missed 10 games, including a five-game suspension for flipping the puck into the crowd after an opponent's empty-net goal.
Damiani, who said he was trying to flip the puck into the netting above the glass and misfired, regrets the incident. But it was an automatic suspension under OHL rules, and he used the time to work out off the ice.
The Stars say there is a lot to like about Damiani, an Ontario native, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds and shoots right-handed.
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"He competes. He's always got his nose over the puck," Peverley said. "He's not afraid to go to the dirty areas. He's blocking shots. He's a guy that you can fit on any team and play a valuable role. He's a hard-nosed player. He's a great kid, great person. I think he's kind of a glue guy and whatever team he plays on guys are going to love him."
A few days after Kitchener fell in the first round of the OHL playoffs, the Stars announced they had signed Damiani to a three-year, entry-level contract and the young forward was off to spend some time with the Texas Stars of the AHL where he played in one game, registering no points and one shot on goal. He spent a couple of weeks with Texas and was able to soak up some valuable experience on what it was like to be a pro hockey player.
"The guys made it easy on me. Great team there, great coaching staff," Damiani said. "Coach (Derek Laxdal) gave me a lot of opportunities, and I even had a little bit of power-play time. There was a very slim chance we were making the playoffs at that point, so I thought it was really good that he was giving younger guys a little bit of an opportunity."
Damiani will get another big opportunity later this summer when he'll attend Canada's national junior team development camp, which begins the process for selecting Canada's roster for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
It's a sign of how far he's come over the past year.
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Damiani is one of 43 players on the camp roster, which includes fellow Dallas prospects Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley.
"Really exciting," Damiani said. "I saw the list of guys that are going, and I am good friends with a lot of them. Obviously, we are going to be competing for spots on that team. I just want to get down there and show what I've got, really show that I can play in every situation and just put my best foot forward."
Damiani is expected to return to Kitchener for one more season of junior hockey before he makes the full-time transition to pro.
"It's going to be an exciting year for me," Damiani said. "I am going to work on a lot of things, work on developing and be able to become a pro down there and translate it to the next level up here."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.