The term “growing pains” can be an accurate one to describe the New York Rangers’ 2018-19 season, if not its recent seasons in general. And that term could also sum up defenseman Tony DeAngelo’s career in a Rangers sweater thus far.
Through his first three seasons with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), DeAngelo worked his way up to be a hot prospect for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, getting selected 19th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored over 50 points in both 2012-13 and 2013-14 before scoring 89 the next season, which he split between the Sting and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. That final season in the OHL earned him the Max Kaminsky Trophy, as well as the Canadian Hockey League’s Defenceman of the Year honors.
DeAngelo seemed to transition well into the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch, scoring 43 points, but the Lightning traded him to the Arizona Coyotes before the next season. After splitting time between the Coyotes and their AHL affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners, he was moved to the Rangers in June 2017. He put up just eight points in 32 games before being demoted back to the minors and suffering an injury.
DeAngelo also earned a bit of a reputation for being immature and a troublemaker, getting suspended twice for violating the OHL’s Abuse/Diversity policy — once against an official and once against a teammate. He was again suspended for abuse against an official during his time in Arizona.
Entering the season, DeAngelo needed a lot of growth with the patience of fans and brass running thin. But now there is hope he can be the player his team wants him to become.
Comparison from 2017-18 to 2018-19
DeAngelo finished 2018-19 with 30 points in 61 games played, which is what he combined for with the Roadrunners and Coyotes. Of those 30 points, 26 were assists, which tied Mats Zuccarello (prior to his mid-season trading) and fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for third-most on the team. This is, of course, a significant step up from the eight points — all assists — in 2017-18.
However, DeAngelo’s best stat was his plus/minus rating. His plus-six was the best on the team this past season, a far cry from the minus-18 he had during his NHL time in 2017-18, which was one of the worst on the team. He also placed fifth on the team in blocked shots, unafraid to stop the puck with his body. Even in his short 2017-18 Rangers stint, he was ninth with 42.
What remains to be seen with DeAngelo is how he handles himself on the ice and controls his temper. In addition to his previous suspensions, he consistently rakes up penalty minutes. He had 77 minutes in 2018-19 — the most on the team and his most since the 84 minutes he had with the Crunch.
The Rangers’ defense has been criticized and carefully graded by the harsh New York media over the past few seasons, even going back to the end of the team’s last Stanley Cup window. It has been constantly inspected and the youngblood has been given no exception.
Some strides have been made by the Rangers defensemen, however. Brady Skjei looks to be turning himself around, Ryan Lindgren showed he could turn into a strong performer once he joins the NHL full-time and Jacob Trouba brings hope for strong talent in New York’s defensive unit. While DeAngelo arguably may not have made as much of an impact as Skjei last season, he’s probably the best example of a player changing for the better.
Part of head coach David Quinn’s problems with DeAngelo at the start of last season was sloppy play and mistakes in the defensive zone. Through Quinn’s motivation and discipline, he boosted his play throughout the second half of the season. Digging further into his plus/minus rating and defensive capabilities, his Goals Above Replacement (GAR) was a 7.7, and his Wins Above Replacement was a 1.4. Both were best of all Rangers defensemen, and third on the team behind Chris Kreider and the mid-season traded Kevin Hayes.
DeAngelo’s best game of the season came on Jan. 15, when he scored two goals in the Rangers’ dominating 6-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He scored his first just over a minute in on a long wrist shot before scoring once more in the third once the game looked out of hand. It was also the perfect example of the Rangers as a wholeresponding to Quinn’s lack of tolerance for bad play.
Speaking of, while Quinn is a fan of DeAngelo’s aggression and passing ability, he also has shown a needed intolerance when his immaturity rises. Quinn scratched the 2014 draft pick about 20 times, most notably in the early portion of the season, as well as two games after the All-Star break due to a “maturity issue.”
DeAngelo needs to know when to use his aggression right. Combined with his potential, he can be a solid contributor and a team motivator. Back in November, he and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Riley Nash went at it after he and Nash knocked one another down. Then he unleashed his inner UFC fighter in February, messing up the Buffalo Sabres’ Kyle Okposo with one punch. Both times, he earned praise for picking the proper time to let loose, and the Rangers won both games, with the defenseman getting an assist in each.
Final Grade: B
There were many question marks plaguing Tony DeAngelo entering the 2018-19 season. After a poor start, an upcoming trade, demotion or release did not look surprising. But after his performance last season, Rangers fans and brass may have plenty of more hope in the New Jersey native.
DeAngelo, despite all his scratchings, played a full NHL season and showcased an ability to both limit the goals against his team and set his teammates up to score. Playing his best hockey and setting his best numbers since the start of his AHL days presents a good sign for his future.
However, what will be the biggest sign of development and progress will be how he conducts himself as an individual. His rabble-rouser nature reared its ugly head at times during the season, and it resulted in Quinn needing to discipline him.
To give DeAngelo credit, he has responded well to Quinn’s handling of him, telling Newsday: “Whether you like it or not, you at least know where you stand and what he thinks, which is real important, I think, for a group…” (from “Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo maturing, showing his skills,” Newsday – 4/1/19).
He and Quinn seem to have a deep respect for one another, but he needs to get to a point where he doesn’t need Quinn to bring him back to Earth.
A restricted free agent, DeAngelo has yet to respond to the Rangers’ initial $874,125 qualifying offer as of Aug. 24. Hopefully, he stays with the team and continues to produce on a defensive unit that may further blossom. Should he somehow depart the Blueshirts, hopefully he lands with a team where he’ll continue his growth — and one with a coaching staff that’d handle any maturity issues as Quinn has.