In his young career, Daniel D’Amato has established himself as a player who makes the most of his opportunities, even when he needs to wait for them. Now along for his second Golden Knights Rookie Camp, the 21-year-old is eager for his first professional season and to see which chances will come his way next.
“In terms of what to expect, I think there are a lot of unknowns,” said D’Amato, who notched 63 points in 63 games last season as captain of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “Having a few pro games isn’t the same as playing a full pro season. A lot of the summer was pushing myself and understanding that this will be a lot of new.”
“In terms of not knowing what to expect, that’s the difference in going from junior to pro and playing against bigger, faster, stronger guys.”
D’Amato got his first taste of pro hockey last season, appearing in five games with the Henderson Silver Knights and recording three points, including his first professional goal on November 20 in Colorado. That first-goal puck sits on a shelf in his room, right next to a puck from his first hat trick with the Otters.
“It was an amazing experience for me to be at the pro level with Henderson. Just to be in the locker room and see how guys prepare – game days and non-game days, on the ice and off the ice,” said D’Amato. “It was really important for me to see how they operate. Being a leader in Erie, it was great to be able to bring some of that to our team.”
He had that chance with Henderson largely because of how he performed in the Rookie Faceoff tournament last year in Arizona. Participating as a tryout invitee, D’Amato scored a goal and showed a high compete level throughout the weekend. He earned an invitation to Silver Knights training camp, and ultimately was offered a two-year AHL contract in November.
That contract was the culmination of not only D’Amato’s work, but also solid legwork by the Golden Knights’ scouting department. Because while D’Amato solidified his case for an AHL deal at rookie and Silver Knights camps, the Golden Knights scouts had to find him first.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed hurdles for many players in 2020-21, perhaps none more so than those of the Ontario Hockey League who saw their season canceled. Some players had the opportunity to play elsewhere, such as NHL draft picks who were able to play in the AHL. Yet many were left with nowhere to go.
To create opportunity for themselves, several OHL players organized an eight-game showcase that scouts attended. VGK Assistant Director of Player Personnel Bob Lowes, Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Luce, and Amateur Scouts Kent Hawley and Erin Ginnell went to this showcase. It was at this event that D’Amato made himself noticed and earned his invitation to 2021 Rookie Camp.
“D’Amato just kept popping. He kept standing out,” said Director of Player Development Wil Nichol. “I just give him a tremendous amount of credit for being where he is already after missing most of two years.”
The Covid year was not D’Amato’s only developmental setback. As a 16 year-old, D’Amato missed the majority of his season with a broken femur. In total, D’Amato has missed almost two of the last six years on the ice.
“If I were to have a motto, it would probably be to control the controllables. Ultimately, there are a lot of things that happen that you can’t control that people get obsessive over,” said D’Amato. “For me, I try not to worry about that stuff. There are only a few things you can control – your attitude every day, your work ethic, and how you treat other people. I think that’s something I live by, and it’s helped me so far. If I keep doing that, I think good things will happen for me.”
For the Silver Knights, the fact that D’Amato has performed at such a high level despite his setbacks allows them to explore where his ceiling will be as a player and what untapped potential there still may be.
“The perseverance is appealing, but also the fact that he’s maybe a little bit behind the curve in the sense that he has missed that time and the injury set him back as well,” said Silver Knights General Manager Tim Speltz. “There might be a lot more there and we might have a bit of a hidden gem here with a guy that is a little bit of a late developer because of things that were outside of his control. There might be some real good upside there that we haven’t even seen yet.”
D’Amato has not registered a point through the first two games of this tournament, but did log significant minutes on the top line during Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings and has been relied upon in penalty-killing situations.
Once the fourth overall pick in the 2018 OHL U18 Priority Selection, D’Amato approached the extenuating circumstances in his development path as character-builders, not obstacles. After proving last season to be a point-per-game player in Erie, D’Amato is eager to prove himself at the pro level.
“I’d like to solidify myself as someone who can contribute to the team on a regular basis,” said D’Amato. “It’s not going to be scoring 30 goals. It’s going to be little things and my two-way play, contributing for the team as well as I can. We’ll see where it goes.”
D’Amato continues to control the controllables, a mantra that is serving him well.