New Calgary Flames prospect Riley Damiani gets a fresh start

Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
4 months ago
The Calgary Flames have acquired Riley Damiani from the Dallas Stars in a trade for Mathias Emilio Pettersen. Both players are 2000-born players, born 14 days apart. Damiani is a shifty and skilled centreman who plays multiple positions and situations, while Pettersen boasts a similar style of play, with less ruggedness and aggression, but some noticeable creativity. I have watched Riley Damiani since he played for the Kitchener Rangers in 2016, and I’m excited for his future in the Calgary Flames organization. His development in Dallas’ system began strong, but has since stagnated, and I believe a fresh start on a stronger AHL team will bode well for Damiani’s current role and NHL potential. Damiani played in some unique AHL COVID situations as well, which will be mentioned below.
This article will break down Damiani’s development path and his value to the Flames organization.

Riley Damiani: the junior leader

In junior, Riley Damiani grew from a diminutive and passive forward to an uber-active high-skilled forward. With the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, Damiani made the team in 2016 as a 2nd-round pick and did not make a big impact despite playing 62 of 68 possible games. I do remember watching him as a rookie and thinking fondly of the energetic high-skill forward, and expected him to grow into a top-6 OHL player if he became more confident and proactive as he matured. Damiani progressed gradually in his 17-year-old year where he put up 37 points in 64 OHL games, which was 6th in team scoring on a team that lost in Game 7 of the Conference Finals that year. After multiple players graduated, Damiani took a prominent role in Kitchener’s offense the following season. A greater opportunity led to greater production and confidence, where Damiani put up 85 points in 58 games as an assistant captain and put NHL teams on notice.
Note: Hunter Brzustewicz and Riley Damiani did not play together on Kitchener (Damiani 2016-20, Brzustewicz 2022-24).
Riley Damiani got drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft, 30 picks before Emilio Pettersen. Damiani showed promise of a future in professional hockey, hence a team like Dallas using a selection on a player who was technically passed over once. The following year in Kitchener, more teammates aged out and Damiani became a go-to option in all situations. Damiani was captain of the Kitchener Rangers in the 2019-2020 OHL season, where he put up 78 points in 61 games (tied for 13th in OHL scoring among 19U players), leading a strong Kitchener team offensively that had young and exciting players who have since reached the NHL and AHL levels including Arber Xhekaj and Francesco Pinelli.
It was clear that Damiani had a pro career in hockey ahead of him. His leadership qualities, work ethic, and puck skills were good signs to transition swiftly into pro hockey, where he saw immediate success.

Riley Damiani: AHL Rookie of the Year

After four seasons with Kitchener in junior, Damiani suited up for Texas in the AHL and found immediate familiarity alongside a former junior teammate: Adam Mascherin. Damiani finished with exactly 1 point per game with 36 points in the 36-game COVID-shortened 2020-2021 AHL season. As a result, Damiani won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as AHL Rookie of the Year. He finished tied for 2nd in AHL scoring that year as well, which is impressive. Keep in mind, for the 2020-2021 season, the AHL talent pool was slightly diluted by the NHL’s COVID season “taxi squads,” which Riley Damiani was a part of before the AHL season began in February 2021. Damiani did not miss any AHL games while others like Ty Dellandrea remained in the taxi squad, which allowed Damiani to play in a prominent full-time AHL role consistently. Again, with a greater opportunity, Damiani found greater production and confidence, even as a young rookie in the AHL.

Riley Damiani: first NHL goal

In the following 2021-22 season, Damiani had 18 points in his first 21 games as an AHL sophomore before being called up to Dallas, where he scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game against the St. Louis Blues. At this point, it felt like he may continue to play with the Dallas Stars, but he was quickly sent back down to the AHL. Damiani played six more NHL games in the 2021-22 season, including recording an assist in only 4:10 of ice time against the Calgary Flames in his most recent NHL game on Feb. 1, 2022. 
This tweet from 1.5 years ago by Jeff Marek was critical for me as a Riley Damiani fan to know that he was not getting forgotten by other NHL teams:
Eventually, I thought another team would give him a chance if Dallas wouldn’t.

Riley Damiani: post-NHL call-up

Damiani hasn’t played an NHL game since, getting cut relatively late into the last two Dallas Stars training camps, including getting cut in the last round of cuts along with other talented prospects like Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque.
The last few seasons have seen Damiani’s opportunity and production take a similar downward trend. The 2021-2022 season saw an average AHL Texas team work with multiple veteran/rookie combos on offense, with what felt like too many players expecting top-6 AHL roles for just 6 spots, as well as Damiani’s offensive regression in a reasonably tougher league. Furthermore, if you look at the 2022-23 Texas Stars roster, Texas loaded up their AHL team full of trustworthy veteran fringe-NHL players, pushing Damiani into less favourable lineup spots and fewer key offensive minutes. These confusing and disappointing 21-year-old and 22-year-old professional hockey seasons are part of why Damiani doesn’t have the appeal he once did as a prospect. These are not excuses for his production regression, but rather context as to why he may have had the seasons he did. 


If Damiani was given a fair opportunity to succeed, I believe he has the tools to compete as a strong AHL player with a chance to impress next training camp. Damiani doesn’t have game-breaking speed, but he is agile and plays fast with the puck. Damiani doesn’t play a physically overpowering game, but he wins battles and demonstrates a great work ethic whether he plays in the top-six or bottom-six (like he’s been relegated to recently). Damiani has an underrated shot, and I believe the opportunity to play in the middle-six of a top AHL team with players that offer more offensive creativity on the Wranglers should benefit Damiani for the rest of the AHL season. While his NHL future is uncertain, Riley Damiani is a great hockey player who fans will enjoy watching and I have been a fan of since his 16-year-old season in junior hockey.
All the best to Riley Damiani in Calgary.
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