The Washington Capitals selected Damien Riat with their fourth round pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (117th overall). The 19-year-old from Switzerland was ranked 84th among European skaters by NHL central scouting. Last season, the left winger registered 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 45 games with Geneve Servette of the National League A (NLA).
When he got drafted that Saturday, he was already on the ice preparing for a new season. “The moment I got drafted, I was actually on the ice in the Swiss Mountains in Champery and my agent told me to go out of the ice because the Washington Capitals had called to announce that I was drafted by them,” Riat said. “It was a pretty exciting moment for me, I was very happy.”
His road to the NHL began as a four-year old when he received his first pair of skates from a friend. “I tried them on at the rink and a couple of weeks later, I started playing hockey with the beginners and I really enjoyed it,” Riat recalled. “I kept on playing every year and hockey became a passion to me.”
Riat said that the sport of hockey has grown tremendously in Switzerland. “Hockey is becoming bigger and bigger now in Switzerland, they’ve been working really hard with the national team’s program these past years and we see that more Swiss players now get to the NHL,” said Riat.
Riat’s favorite player growing up was (breathe easy Caps fans) Sidney Crosby. He describes him as a difference maker on the ice. Riat represented his country of Switzerland in the 2016 World Junior Championship. “It was a great experience at the World Juniors,” said Riat. “Even if we didn’t get the results we wanted, it’s always a nice feeling to me to represent my country and it’s special. I take pride in it.”
In 2014 and 2015 he partook in the U18 World Championship and he described the 2015 event as his favorite hockey moment thus far. That year the games were hosted in Switzerland, giving his team the extra home ice advantage.
“We played in front of our own crowd and it was incredible. We went to the semifinal and for us, as a small country, it was a pretty good accomplishment,” said Riat.
Entering the draft as an 18-year-old has to be a little nerve-wracking with a fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of where you’re going to end up or even getting drafted for that matter. Riat wasn’t sure how high he was going to get drafted but knew a couple of teams had taken interest in him watching him during the season.
“I knew there was a chance I was going to be drafted,” said Riat.
Riat met with the Caps prior to the draft and the meeting went well to the point he hoped they would take him. “I actually hoped they were going to draft me,” Riat said. “I had a very good feeling talking to them and this is a great organization, I am very happy to be a part of it.”
After getting drafted, he flew from Switzerland to Arlington, VA to take part in the Capitals annual Summer Development Camp held at their practice facility at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Riat, along with the rest of the young Capitals’ prospects, got to experience what it was like to be an NHLer.
“It was a great experience for me at Caps Development Camp, I really enjoyed it,” said Riat. “I could see how big the Washington Capitals organization was and how truly this is a number one organization. People were really nice and very professional.”
While at Development Camp, Mike Vogel went one-on-one with Damien, and you can watch Mike’s interview with Damien by clicking below:
Fast forward to the 40 second mark of the video below, taken in November of last year, and watch Riat’s speed and his overall skating grace and expertise:
This upcoming season Riat will return to the Geneve Servette and plans to work hard to go even further and improve his game. “I hope to win the championship with them and get a medal from the Swiss national team at World Juniors,” said Riat. “From Development Camp, I hope to work on the little details that we did on the ice that I can carry into my game. We also learned to have a winning mentality in everything we do and I think that was interesting to learn.”
If Riat keeps that winning mentality there is a good chance we may see him in a Capitals sweater in a couple years.
By Michael Marzzacco