September 03 2013 02:41AM
The beard is ranked at 1.5 on the top prospects list, so we'll be focusing on it's owner today
If there was ever any prospect that was meant to be described as the "Swiss Army Knife" of the Leafs organization, this is the man you're looking for. While he probably won't reach the "elite player in hiding" label that some optimistic Leafs fans had given him immediately following the 2008 Entry Draft, there is no doubt in my mind that the Leafs have a long-term NHLer on their hands of Jerry D'Amigo.
In a world where the Leafs weren't gasping for breath at the mercy of the Salary Cap, I'd even go as far as saying he'd be ready to play in a bottom six role as early as this year. At this second, I wouldn't bet on such a thing, though that may work out for the better.
A fair bit of criticism was had over D'Amigo's drop in production last year, and he went from a 41 point sophomore season to putting up a less-than stellar 17 goals and 12 assists in 70 games. What happened? It's a mixture of things. Rather than start the year with Joey Crabb and Joe Colborne like he did the year before (when they were the hottest line in the AHL), Jerry was pushed to the bottom of the lineup by obvious NHL talent waiting for the lockout to end. To make matters worse, when he was cold, it was cryogenics level, even going 11 games without a point for a moment. As such, he managed to muster up just 7 points in the first 30 games in the year. After that, however, he manged to get back into his half-point per game pace of the year prior, even scoring 9 goals in 18 games towards the end of the year.
But even with all of this happening, there was never a distinct reason to give D'Amigo a significant shot to be a "go to guy" offensively, rather a consistent compliment that would be fit in to whatever line could use his versatility best. Is that something you can fault Dallas Eakins for? Not really, Toronto needed to stay in a strong playoff position, and there isn't exactly an expectation for D'Amigo to be on an NHL first line.
But this years Marlies roster is different. Everybody is younger - D'Amigo has gone from the new kid at Ricoh Coliseum, to one of the longer serving members of the team and, despite being just 22 years old, one of the vets in the room. The team is lacking a scoring touch, and Steve Spott will have to get creative to find one. Coincidentally, D'Amigo was coached by Spott and the Kitchener Rnagers just two seasons ago when the Marlies sent him back to the OHL conditioning. The opportunity to pick somebody you're familiar with to take on a major workload on a team that he's aware of is a tempting one.
And who knows how it works? Maybe first line Jerry is just like Playoff Jerry, who experiences a sharp increase in production (13pts in 17 games in 2011/12, 9 in 9 this year). Maybe it turns out that his chemistry with Greg Scott is a major reason for his offensive numbers, and he's back to being a utility guy before the snow starts falling. There's really only one way to find out.
Even if he gets big minutes and can't step up to them, D'Amigo is still a very good player to have in the organization. He can at least keep up with any line you put him on, and can do it from either wing. He's got solid defensive awareness, skates faster than most, and will play a chippy, in your face game that manages to distract and annoy opponents. He can crash the net, and he can keep the puck away from the net. He's been part of the Marlies' go-to penalty killing duo for the past two seasons, but can also contribute on the powerplay. I'm sure if you asked politely, he'd strap on the pads and go in net.
D'Amigo, in short, is a forward that understands all aspects of the game up front, and will do exactly as he's assigned. Worst case scenario, he'll be a solid fourth line winger in the NHL. Best case, he learns a lot from a productive stretch this season with the Marlies and turns into a very good third line guy. His work ethic and good attitude will make the jump to the NHL inevitable as long as he doesn't lose sight of the goal.
If he does, he can become the most underrated beard model of our generation. His choice.