At the start of the season, the Kitchener Rangers were hoping that they'd get some serious help from NHL teams in order to be Memorial Cup contenders. They were dealing with three players who had uncertain pro futures. Jeff Skinner, Jeremy Morin and Jerry D'Amigo were all at pro training camps to start the year and the Rangers were hoping to get at least two of them.
Skinner was the heir apparent. He of the 50 regular season goals and a goal per game in the playoffs. He was the youngest of the three and the most likely to return. He's now the leading candidate for the NHL's Calder Trophy.
Morin had spent last season in Kitchener. The Rangers and OHL went to bat in the summer to clarify his OHL eligibility since he was drafted out of the USNTDP but signed in Kitchener prior to being drafted. Morin was ruled AHL eligible and aside from a few Chicago recalls, has spent his time in the AHL with Rockford.
Between Morin and Skinner, the Rangers lost 97 goals from last season.
D'Amigo was always the longest shot to ever end up in Kitchener. He had the chance to join former USNTDP teammate Morin in Kitchener the previous summer but ended up at RPI. He was a World Junior standout at the 2010 tournament in Saskatoon and was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year for his freshman campaign at RPI. When the Leafs signed him and reassigned him to the Marlies, most anticipated he'd spend the year there.
But there were always breadcrumbs. First, the Leafs signed Kitchener Ranger Andrew Crescenzi. NHL teams are usually more willing to work with junior programs that they have a comfort level with. Crescenzi's growth this season in Kitchener likely went a long way to making the Leafs more comfortable in sending D'Amigo down.
Second, D'Amigo didn't look at home in the AHL. This is not a comment on his effort level. There's a significant difference between the short college schedule and a gruelling 80-game AHL grind. A 19-year-old playing with men can go from treading water to drowning when he hits the infamous "college wall."
D'Amigo has had some stretches of quality performance this season with the Marlies. He produced well on a November road trip and he's been quietly effective since returning from the World Juniors. Coach Dallas Eakins has always spoken well of his work ethic but his production just wasn't there to keep him with the Marlies as their walking wounded started to return to the lineup.
Third, the World Juniors didn't help his cause. At the 2010 tournament, D'Amigo had 12 points in seven games. At this year's tournament in Buffalo, he had two points in six games. A player with 30 games of pro experience, who dominated the tournament as an 18-year-old is expected to do at least as well, if not better, when playing in the tournament as a 19-year-old. The steep decline in D'Amigo's production while playing against players his own age and younger likely also aided in the decision to send him back to Kitchener to get some seasoning.
So what does this mean for the Rangers? For the Leafs? For Jerry D'Amigo?
The Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs gain the least of the three parties in the short term from this. In the OHL, D'Amigo is only eligible for emergency call-ups the way all OHLers are. But their gains are long term. D'Amigo remains a quality prospect that the organization has high hopes for.
Many will argue that this decision should have been made back in November. Playing among his peers, with his first crack at an 80-plus-game schedule, D'Amigo will get the chance to play significant minutes rather than the 10 per night he was getting with the Marlies. It will also allow him to play a long schedule without being overwhelmed by playing with men, something that can overwhelm even the most talented of prospects a year older than D'Amigo.
In the long term, this will make D'Amigo a better player next year at training camp. It'll make him better when he takes on a bigger role with the Marlies next season and both those things will aid the Leafs.
D'Amigo has had moments where he's looked like he's ready to break out offensively and moments where his offense dries up. Being reassigned from the AHL to the OHL will allow him to play bigger minutes against kids his own age and develop some consistency to his offensive game. When he's played within his relative age group with the USNTDP and at RPI, he's always been a premiere offensive performer.
The remaining 20 games of the OHL schedule with the potential for an additional long playoff run means that D'Amigo will get the chance to regain the kind of offensive touch that made the Leafs so wild for him last summer. Having that kind of consistency will only make him better as a prospect going forward.
Let's not kid ourselves; the Rangers gain the most from this. Caught in the untenable position of not having the assets to buy and not having the desire to sell, they were left standing still at the deadline while conference competitors in Windsor and Saginaw made themselves considerably better. This allows the Rangers to add a huge piece to their lineup, arguably a better player than any player moved at the deadline, without giving up anything for next season.
This also helps a team who's had huge issues with secondary scoring this season. D'Amigo moves solid Rangers scorers like Michael Catenacci, Tobias Rieder and Matia Marcantuoni onto the second and third lines. This one move could make the Kitchener Rangers the prohibitive favourites to win the OHL West again.
But there's a reason they play the games, folks. D'Amigo might never find his stride in the OHL. He might not develop chemistry with his new linemates and teammates. Other teams and goaltenders could get hot and become roadblocks for D'Amigo's new team.
One thing and one thing only is for certain at this moment. The Toronto Maple Leafs just made the OHL Playoff picture in the West a whole lot more competitive.