After a strong OHL career that saw him become an effective two-way center and eventual team captain of the Kitchener Rangers, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Riley Damiani was going to have no trouble adjusting to life in the AHL as a member of the Texas Stars.
But to see the 2018 Dallas Stars fifth-rounder leading all league rookies in scoring 12 games in, with 15 points? That’s not something that anyone would have expected, even in their most generous projections.
Yes, it has been quite an eventful month and a half for the 20-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario (his 21st birthday comes in a few days, on the 20th). He picked up two goals and one assist in his AHL debut on February 5th and hasn’t really slowed down since, producing points in eight of the next 11 games.
His scoring pace reached a notable crescendo on Saturday, as he scored his first professional hat trick — which were all of his team’s goals in the game, to boot — in a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Eagles, boosting him clear to sole possession of the league’s rookie scoring race and the Texas points lead.
How has Damiani been so successful lately? What’s his secret? Odd as it may sound, there is a certain “it” factor to him that is hard to describe and pin down.
He’s a very smart player with a lot of natural hockey sense, but that doesn’t quite explain it. He’s also determined and focused and hard-working, but that’s not quite it either. There’s almost a naturalness to how he feels the game and approaches it, which goes a long way in overcoming his below-average size and the fact that he’s not exactly elite with his skating, his shooting, his puck skill or his playmaking. When you see the “it” factor in a player, you see it.
Getting reunited with former Kitchener teammate Adam Mascherin — who is second on the team in scoring with 13 points in 11 games, many of which have come in connection with Damiani — certainly helps a lot too.
While it’s far, far, far too early to start talking about Damiani in the same vein as other Dallas Stars fifth-round steals in Jamie Benn and John Klingberg, there’s still plenty of reason for fans of the team to get excited about one of the organization’s fastest-rising prospects.
Damiani’s heroics on Saturday weren’t enough to keep Texas’s winning streak alive, but hey, five wins in a row is pretty good any way that you slice it. After a sweep of the Tucson Roadrunners from March 3rd-6th, the Stars also took the first game of their four-game rumble against the Eagles by a 4-2 score, before coming up short in game two. The next two contests come today and Wednesday.
Beyond Damiani and Mascherin, many of the other Dallas prospects on this roster have been leaving an impression. Thomas Harley leads all blueliners on the team with eight points in 12 games, while Ben Gleason, Ryan Shea and Joseph Cecconi have also all been contributing on the score sheet. Tye Felhaber has four goals and has been finding some of that signature swagger and pestilence that he displayed in the OHL, and Riley Tufte and Dawson Barteaux have become regulars on the team’s penalty kill. Colton Point has been a little inconsistent between the pipes thus far, but he did put forth a herculean 40-save effort in one of the wins over Tucson.
Dallas has done a good job of stocking this team with young talent, and seeing many of those seeds starting to blossom is certainly a positive development that the organization can take some pride in right about now.
North American Junior
Ben Brinkman (sixth round, 173rd overall, in the 2019 draft) and the University of Minnesota Gophers are off to the Big Ten Hockey championship game after a stunning come-from-behind overtime win over Michigan on Monday. Brinkman is known primarily as a stay-at-home defenseman, but it was his shot from the point that generated the rebound on the overtime game-winner. They’ll face off against Wisconsin tonight.
WE'RE GOING TO THE 'SHIP!!!! pic.twitter.com/LY61Vtp8wQ— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 16, 2021
Mavrik Bourque picked up four points in four Shawinigan Cataractes games from the week of March 1st to March 7th, but then was off for the following week. He returns to action this Friday. He’s up to 31 points in 22 games on the season.
Rémi Poirier has now won four games in a row for the Gatineau Olympiques, bumping his save percentage on the season up to .917.
Yevgeni Oksentyuk (sixth round, 162nd overall, in the 2020 draft) is off to the second round in the Belarusian Extraleague playoffs after his Yunost Minsk team swept their first series. He had one goal in the four games. Depending on how the remainder of that postseason goes and what happens with the OHL season, he might still return stateside to get in some more games with the Flint Firebirds before the summer.
For a full database of the organization’s prospects and their stats, check out the Stars’ “In the System” page on Elite Prospects.