Riley Damiani was the first player agent Cam Stewart wanted to sign when he joined the industry.
Damiani, now a Dallas Stars prospect, has also found a champion in Rich Peverley, the Stars’ director of player personnel. For a fifth-round pick (137th overall in 2018) who constantly hears he’s too small, that means a lot.
“I look up to him,” Damiani said. “I love the way he played, and he’s teaching me the little things in the game: faceoffs are a big thing we work on, touching up my all-around game and being able to play confident; he gives that to me where I have confidence to play at the next level, but I have to put the work in and do the time.”
A 5-foot-10, 170-pound center, Damiani is coming off a season with the Texas Stars in which he earned AHL top rookie honors. His 36 points in 36 games was best among league freshmen and tied for third overall. The funny thing is, Damiani has always been a great defensive forward, dating back to his junior days with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. “He was always a detailed player, always in the right spot defensively,” Peverley said. “The initial impressions were that he had great vision, good speed, and he’s a relentless worker. We were impressed right away, and that’s why we drafted him.”
With Peverley based in Guelph, Ont., and Damiani in nearby Kitchener, the two have been able to skate together during summers and build a rapport through post-workout lunches or dinners. Damiani, 21, credits a number of hockey folk for helping his game along the way, including his U-16 Mississauga Rebels coach Geoff Schomogyi and former Kitchener bench boss Jay McKee. Schomogyi ingrained the concept of playing fast in the ‘D’ zone in order to have more time on offense, while McKee taught Damiani about keeping in front of opponents.
Damiani put up some stellar offensive numbers in the OHL, but his point-per-game effort with Texas was a pleasant surprise.
“With Riley, he was always good defensively, but what I saw those last two years in Kitchener was how good he was on the power play,” Peverley said. “He makes plays crisp on the tape, and his shot from distance on the power play has gotten better. And his polish around the net – he does these shootout moves, and he finds a way to get the puck up – he’s got a lot of skill. It’s something he has worked at, and he’s vastly improved.”
The biggest concern regarding Damiani was his light frame – and Peverley still wants him to pack on muscle – but he thrived against men as a rookie pro. Having said that, Damiani does want to get bigger. “I’m a little undersized – not sure if you’ve read that anywhere,” he said with a dose of sarcasm. “A lot of people say if I get bigger I’ll get slower, but if I build the right spots I’ll get more powerful, shoot harder and have more weight to throw around.”
Damiani is looking forward to building that this summer, and as always, he’ll have Peverley in his corner.