The Dallas Stars’ development camp wrapped up on Sunday at the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas, where top prospects Thomas Harley and Riley Damiani shared much of the attention. Both players impressed last season in the American Hockey League (AHL) and are on the cusp of breaking into the NHL. This season, Dallas has far more depth, making it a challenge for young players to crack the lineup. Making a good impression throughout development camp, the NHL prospect tournament, and training camp is a must to earn a spot. With step one completed and heading into the prospect tournament, Damiani and Harley have improved their chances.
Damiani is a natural center and excelled on the top line last season in the AHL, scoring 36 points in 36 games. However, when a young forward first breaks into the NHL, it is usually in a fourth-line role with little playing time. This can make it tough for offensive players to display their talent and continue to earn a spot in the lineup. But this is what Damiani prepared for. With the help of the development staff during the offseason, he trained to not only play a different role but a different position altogether. Since the Stars are deep down the middle, it is likely that the young forward will need to show he can play on the wing.
The toughest part of this transition is playing along the boards, which is all about battling and the will to control the puck. For the undersized Damiani, it will be a challenge. However, he has a leg up as one of the most tenacious players on the ice. Now, he must continue to prove his versatility.
“We know what Damer can bring. I coached him all last year. He did an incredible job as our first-line center, but it’s about being versatile and giving yourself the best opportunity at the next level.”– Texas Stars head coach Neil Graham
Not only will he need to change positions, but he will also need to prove he can play in any situation. The power-play specialist will likely not play on that unit but can earn more ice time on the penalty kill, taking faceoffs, and showing his defensive responsibility.
“J.J. and Pevs (Stars development specialists Rich Peverley and J.J. McQueen) let me know that if you’re going to break through, it’s probably going to be on the wing first. You have to work to get to the middle of the ice at the next level, so I just have to play my game. I just have to try to find a role at the next level. I think can play in any role they want me to. I can adjust my game any which way. Whether it’s bottom six role or top six forward, power play, penalty kill, I think I can adjust to anything that they’re looking for. I just have to figure out that role and go from there.”– Stars prospect Riley Damiani
Is Harley Finally Ready?
Thomas Harley has come close to cracking the roster the last two seasons. In his first NHL training camp in 2019, the 20-year-old defenseman remained on the roster until the final cuts, surprising everyone with his maturity and skill at such a young age. Last season, he had the opportunity to play in the AHL after COVID-19 shut down the Ontario Hockey League season. He took full advantage, tallying 25 points in 38 games for the Texas Stars. He understands the challenge ahead and knows he must steal someone’s job if he has any hope of making the NHL roster.
“I’ve been frustratingly close to making it. To know I’m that close and needing a little bit more, it’s definitely motivation. I’m coming into this (training) camp, nothing is given and I’m going to have to work my ass off to show that I can play at this level to make it. They’re not just going to give me a spot because I’ve been close.”Stars prospect Thomas Harley (from “Stars’ Thomas Harley knows what it will take to make the roster: ‘I want that next challenge,” The Athletic, 9/9/21).
Harley has the offensive skill to succeed at the next level. In fact, he has often been compared to Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen. So far throughout camp, his talents have been on display possessing the puck, skating well, and finding his way into the action at all times.
However, can he defend consistently? While he has continued to improve each season, he will need to take his defensive play up a notch if he wants to see playing time in the NHL.
“It’s his defending that’ll take him to the next level,. We’ve got to get his hands on him, J.J. got to work with him on the strength side, and you’ve got Neil and the coaching staff working with him. I think the biggest strides I saw with his defensive game is urgency with the puck. He’s got to learn to minimalize the mistakes, and he’s doing a good job with that.”– Stars director of player personnel Rich Peverly
Playing in the AHL was a huge step for both of these players last season. With a season of professional hockey under their belts, they know how to compete at a much higher level and against pros. Now, their goal is to prove they are capable of reaching the NHL. However, it isn’t a question of if we will see these two in Dallas, it’s a question of when.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!