There's a point in the development of all prospects where the team has to assess whether the player is ready to take the next step forward and move up to a league where he will face a greater challenge.
Sometimes the move is forced; a player finishes eligibility in either Major Junior or College hockey, and the team has to assess whether the player is ready to take that next step into the pros. Sometimes the move is whether the player is ready to step up a rung on the professional hockey ladder, from the ECHL to the AHL, or from the AHL up to the NHL.
Development does not always run on a constant uphill trajectory; not every player follows the same trajectory to the NHL Countless players reach a plateau at one of the many checkpoints on the way to the NHL and even then arriving at the promised land is by no means a guarantee they stay there.
In rare cases taking a step back is what is most beneficial for a player's future prospects, rather than a de facto death sentence for their chances as a prospect of the organization. While it's still too early to say for certain, the Leafs may just have one of those players in their system, a young kid trying to beat long odds from his draft position and contribute at the NHL level.
Coming at #16 on our list of the Top 25 Under 25 is Jerry D'Amigo.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, D'Amigo was seen as someone who projected to be an energetic, if undersized, two-way player who could chip in offensively. He was drafted out of the US National Development Program having accumulated 23 goals and 33 assists for 56 points in 53 games plus a team-leading 13 points in 7 games for the US Under 18 team. A classic "little guy who scores a lot" selection, D'Amigo had been projected to be as high as a third-round pick but concerns regarding his small stature (5'10") and about his skating caused him to fall in the draft.
Almost immediately D'Amigo set out to prove the Leafs brass was correct in taking a flyer on the winger. He scored at just shy of a point per game pace as a freshman for RPI in the NCAA, and was a standout for the 2010 US U20 team that captured gold at the World Junior Championships, scoring 12 points in 6 games. At the end of the season he decided to leave school to sign an entry-level contract with Toronto and jump to the Toronto Marlies.
Last season was marred by frustration. The influx of prospects and talent into the Leafs pro system had begun, which made playing team for a rookie such as D'Amigo hard to come by. Used mostly in a third line and PK role, D'Amigo acquitted himself quite nicely physcially, proving himself capable of handling the rigors of the professional schedule. The problem was that his scoring touch had seemed to abandon him.
After being loaned to the US to defend their World Junior title in Buffalo, D'Amigo was again used in more of a defensive role and this time scored one goal and one assist in six games as the Americans won bronze. Shortly after returning to the Marlies, it was decided that what was best for D'Amigo's game was to take a step back and allow him to rediscover his scoring touch. After 43 games for the Marlies in which he scored just 5 goals and 10 assists, D'Amigo was assigned to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
Almost immediately, D'Amigo's offensive game flourished. Playing against players his own age or younger on a daily basis for the first time in two seasons, and paired with soon to be 2nd overall pick Gabriel Landeskog, D'Amigo exploded for 28 points in 21 games for the Rangers, adding another 9 points in 7 games as the Rangers were upset by the Plymouth Whalers in the first round.
The struggles he faced during his first tour of duty with the Marlies could well have been related to age. For the entire portion of the season before he was assigned to Kitchener, D`Amigo was one of the extremely few 19 year olds playing in the AHL (an agreement between the AHL & CHL prevents CHL players from playing in the AHL before they turn 20. As an NCAA grad, D'Amigo was exempted from this rule, but still eligible to be assigned to the CHL since Kitchener held his CHL rights. Confusing, I know). A half-season playing against individuals his own age allowed him to rediscover the attributes that made him a hopeful prospect in the Maple Leafs system.
This season has been much more successful personally for the Binghamton native. He has found himself being used more frequently in offensive situations (often playing alongside another top prospect in Joe Colborne), and has rewarded coach Dallas Eakins' faith with an improved scoring record of 22 points through 40 games. D'Amigo turns 21 next month so he still has time to mature into a more complete player.
Of all players included in the Top 25, Jerry had the largest disparity between his highest vote (Chemmy at #12) and his lowest (SkinnyFish at #24). Chemmy provide a dash of realism that even though he has D'Amigo ranked quite high, the odds are definitely against him.
Despite being a Real American Hero I'm not convinced Jerry D'Amigo is going to be an impact player at the NHL level. He's at about half a point per game in the AHL as a 21 year old which would make him a 20pt player in the NHL next season assuming he sticks all year. The upside is D'Amigo isn't needed right now and has time to work on his defensive game. With luck he could be an option on special teams and
maybe bang bodies on the fourth line moving forward.