Are the Rangers & DeAngelo a Good Fit?

Anthony DeAngelo has already had an eventful hockey career by the age of 23. He was drafted five years ago by the Tampa Bay Lightning and he’s already playing for his third organization, the New York Rangers. After a sub-par 2017-18 season, when he split time between the Hartford Wolf Pack and Rangers, management hoped that the 5-foot-11 defenseman would start to hit his stride in his first season in the same jersey as his last.

DeAngelo came to New York in an offseason trade that sent star center Derek Stepan and backup goaltender Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. The Rangers, in addition to DeAngelo, received the seventh-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Given that he was traded for fan-favorite Stepan, expectations were soaring.

He played 32 games for the Rangers last season, seven fewer appearances than he made for the Coyotes in 2016-17, accumulating just eight assists and finishing with a minus-18 rating. For the Wolf Pack, he really didn’t do much better, posting 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) and finishing minus-12 in 29 games.

Erik Gustafsson, Tony DeAngelo, Henrik Lundqvist
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist watches as defenseman Tony DeAngelo tends net against Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Rangers’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings was DeAngelo’s 33rd game in a Rangers jersey. He returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch on Jan. 31 against the New Jersey Devils and on Feb. 2 against the Lightning. The New Jersey-native was pulled from the lineup after a six-game stint next to Marc Staal on the top defensive pairing because of, as head coach David Quinn put it, “maturity issues.”

Quinn has put DeAngelo in the “Quinn Bin” a team-high 19 times this season, a peculiar stat for a player who fits on the same pair as a player like Staal. But if it’s a character issue Quinn has a problem with, then the first-year NHL coach is trying to whip DeAngelo into shape.

On a team like the Rangers, whose rebuild has affected morale on the bench, an emotional player like DeAngelo may not be the worst thing in the world. I dug into DeAngelo’s early hockey career to better understand him as a player and thought about how he could act as a catalyst in an otherwise lifeless season in New York.

Could DeAngelo Develop From A Coaching Nightmare to a Coach’s Dream?

DeAngelo’s hockey career began during his time in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting. He played 236 games in Canada from 2011 to 2015 (between the Sting and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds), averaging around 48 points per season, per Elite Prospects. But when people saw DeAngelo on the roster, it wasn’t his skill that first came to mind. In 2014-15, his draft season, he was suspended for nine games – one for abusing an official and eight for an inappropriate comment he made toward a teammate.

The second time he was suspended by the OHL –for violating the league’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy – the issue was addressed by his head coach Trevor Letowski before the league even knew about it. Causing internal issues within an organization is never a reputation an athlete wants to have, but DeAngelo made a name for himself early on.

“Anthony made a mistake and he got caught up in the moment,” Letowski said at the time. “It’s something I’m sure he wishes he could take back, but it’s one of these unique moments. The league ruled on it and we fully support it. It’s eight games and he has to pay the penalty.”

Despite the suspensions, long-time Tampa Bay director of amateur scouting, Al Murray said that the team had done its homework on the defenseman and everyone they asked spoke very highly of him. Murray noted that DeAngelo owned up to his suspensions and discussed them openly with Lightning staffers.

With Murray’s confirmation that DeAngelo is a cooperative player, I’m even more sure that he can be effective under Quinn. DeAngelo responded well to Quinn’s decision to scratch him, noting that he and the first-year coach were on the same page and had an understanding of what was expected of him.

New York Rangers Tony DeAngelo Anaheim Ducks Ryan Getzlaf
New York Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf. (Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/Newsday via AP)

These are positive signs of a developing player who is learning to communicate with the coaching staff and take direction. Being a coachable player is much more important to the game of hockey than having best friends on your team.

And although the Lightning didn’t find space for him, the Coyotes took on the DeAngelo challenge in 2016. He served a three-game suspension for physical abuse of an official in Jan. 2017, where he supposedly tried to break from the grip of linesman David Brisebois while arguing a call during a game against the Calgary Flames.

“It’s always a concern but we thought the risk was worth it at that point,” Arizona GM John Chayka said when DeAngelo was first acquired by the organization. “He’s a young kid. He’s made some mistakes or done some things, but we’re willing to work with him. We think strongly that he’s a good person.”

Having the skills and tenacity to combat your potential risk factor is a win for DeAngelo. He’s managed to be reckless his entire hockey career and still prompt teams to take chances on him.

So, the Rangers were aware of what they were getting themselves into with DeAngelo, and so has each team before that. Maybe it’s a matter of time until he earns a suspension while wearing a Rangers jersey, or maybe Quinn is the type of coach he needs to ground him.

Sean Avery Worked for the Rangers, Who Says DeAngelo Can’t Do the Same?

I’m not comparing the notorious Sean Avery, who had an actual NHL rule created after his antics, to a three-year NHLer but DeAngelo reminds me of him. Avery made a name for himself as a tenacious, relentless pest who would distract opponents. He had a chip on his shoulder, and so does DeAngelo. Learning to channel his emotions into his game could finally clear up any “maturity issues” that still linger.

“DeAngelo is a really interesting player,” Arizona coach Dave Tippett said after he first sent DeAngelo down to the AHL three seasons ago. “He’s got a dynamic skill set that it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a good NHL player…He’ll go down and start down there, but he certainly came into camp – for a player I didn’t know well – he came in and certainly impressed our staff. His skill set and skating is very unique, and he’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

He isn’t shy with fans on Twitter, and he isn’t afraid to be competitive – which we saw in his lengthy stare at the Boston Bruins bench after his game-winning shootout goal. That’s the exact kind of player that the Rangers need right now to get some spark.

Since returning from being a health scratch, DeAngelo posted assists in back-to-back games against Boston and Los Angeles. He finished plus-two against the Kings and clocked in with a lengthy 24 minutes on the ice against the Bruins.

If DeAngelo can keep his emotions under wrap and learn how to utilize it for the benefit of the team, Quinn could have a whole different player in No. 77. There’s a lot of life inside DeAngelo, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he figures out how to use it the right way.