SPOTLIGHT: Riley Damiani blazing his path to the pros
Riley Damiani knows the scouts are watching, and he couldn’t be more enthused about the added attention.
The 17-year-old Mississauga, ON native is in his second campaign with the Kitchener Rangers in 2017-18, a season which also doubles as his NHL draft year.
For some players, the pressure that comes with attempting to finally achieve the ultimate goal of hearing your name called during the NHL Entry Draft can be daunting. For Damiani, it’s a pressure – but also a thrill – knowing that goal is at his fingertips.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind knowing scouts are in the stands watching all the time,” said Damiani, “but it also gets me really excited to go out there and play and show them what I’ve got.”
“I like to think the pressure helps boost me up to another level.”
It certainly seems like it’s done just that for the second round, 29th overall pick of the Rangers in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection. He scored in his first game of the season, and followed that up by enjoying a three-game point streak, tallying four points. He’s already surpassed his goal total from his rookie season, (nine in 2016-17, 11 as of December 12), and is just two points shy of last season’s total of 22 in 30 less games played.
He registered a career high three-point game on Remembrance Day – a goal and a pair of assists – vs. the Windsor Spitfires, and also tallied his first two-goal game just over a week later against the North Bay Battalion. Time after time he’s found himself drawing into the team’s top-6, and he appreciates the fact that the added responsibility also comes with the added opportunity to learn from teammates who have achieved their dream of being drafted by an NHL team, like Adam Mascherin.
“I’ve played with some guys who are big and strong,” said Damiani of past linemates over the years. “Guys who go into the corners for you and really dig out pucks. I’ve also played with others who play a real shut-down, defensive type game.
“Getting to play with a guy like Adam Mascherin who has that unreal skill, that just gives you a whole other look out there,” he praised. “Every time you step out onto the ice with him, you think the puck is going in the net. He’s a goal scorer, but a great play maker too. He has the ability to find you out there and help create chances not only for himself, but for his teammates.
“He’s got that skill that just stands out and helps make the players around him better.”
In his second Ontario Hockey League season the sophomore has embraced everything he’s learned from teammates, but is quickly becoming acclimated to the grinds of the season and how to best prepare for the challenges that face a player in a 68-plus game year.
Off-ice preparation was something he knew he wanted to focus on after his rookie taste of major junior.
“I focused on getting better in the gym and getting better on the ice,” he said of his off-season workouts. “Every little thing I did in the summer attributed to where I am at this point.
“I’m a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger,” he added. “I worked hard at my conditioning, and it’s paying off now in how I feel out there.”
“Last season I wasn’t really settled in and comfortable in the league until about halfway through the year,” he reflected. “You’re still learning and trying to get everything going; get your hands going, gauge the speed of the game at this level. But this year things came along quicker because I knew better what to expect. I feel like that gave me a big advantage.
“Now the goal is to just keep it going.”
It’s one goal, but it’s not the only goal of the former Mississauga Rebel. He, as well as the rest of his Rangers teammates, know the expectations of passionate Rangers Nation weigh heavy, but he’s confident in how the team will achieve the success that both the fans and the team want.
“Plain and simple, this season will be a success if everyone buys in and wants to win as badly as I do.”
The next Kitchener Rangers SPOTLIGHT will feature forward and Kilworth, ON native Eric Guest.