Of all the roster battles expected this preseason, none seemed to be as hotly debated as the “Tony DeAngelo final chance tour.” We all assumed DeAngelo would make the team out of camp as a formality — along with Neal Pionk. The reasoning behind the thought? The Rangers needed to find out what they had in each player, and what better time than now when there was no long-standing consequences to being bad?
The Adam McQuaid trade changed that — something outlined in my coverage of the trade here, and something Mike, Adam, and I talked about extensively on the podcast here. From that story:
Before he was brought in, the Rangers had two wide open spots on defense (assuming Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Marc Staal all made the team). We plugged in guys like Anthony DeAngelo (who we argued at The Forum had to get a starting role on the team so the Rangers could see what they had in him) and Neal Pionk — with Libor Hajek, John Gilmour, and everyone else sitting firmly in the “long shots” category. It was simply and easy.
Now, with McQuaid in the picture, things are a bit more complicated.
What if Gorton doesn’t believe the Rangers have two defenseman in their system who can fill an everyday NHL role? With McQuaid in the fold those two aforementioned spots on the depth chart shrink down to one, with Pionk and DeAngelo the only real options for that spot.
I have speculated DeAngelo to be among the top tier of players a coach like David Quinn — along with simply a fresh start — would really help. Through two preseason games that appears to be the case. He’s received top-pairing minutes, a lion’s share of power play time and has taken a huge step forward to proving he belongs on the opening night roster.
Have there been mistakes? Of course there have been. He’s had a few bad turnovers in his own zone, a few more trying to make things happen in the offensive zone, but he’s been doing so while creating. And when you create you take chances. And when you take chances you run the risk of making magic or making a mistake. Offensive defensemen specifically are put under a higher-scope magnifying glass in this regard because when they make mistakes to create they are often the most out of position in attempting to get back — thus easier to notice. They often lead the NHL in turnovers, and that’s a byproduct of them having the puck on their skate more frequently than other players. It is a risk-reward mentality in which you hope your guy is a net positive when all is said and done.
A few of you pointed out that DeAngelo received a similar workload under Alain Vigneault in last year’s preseason as well, and that’s true. That said, DeAngelo saw more games in October where he had less than six minutes of ice time as he did games where he had more than 17 minutes. Before he was sent down to Hartford, he averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time in his eight games on Broadway. Mistakes were met with the typical healthy scratch or benching, and eventually it ended with him being sent down.
Something else needs to be mentioned here as well: DeAngelo had a very good preseason last year before fizzling out in October. I would argue confidence played a role in that, but I accept that can be labeled as an excuse. Still, DeAngelo hasn’t looked afraid to make things happen, even with the inevitable mistakes that come with it.
All that said, his defending has looked, well, better. I actually cringed when he broke his stick on the power play and was forced back one-on-one without a stick, but then he did this:
And look, I get it, that’s one example picked for the purpose of this argument. There’s going to be defensive mistakes that comes with DeAngelo, but you take those lumps to get stuff like this, too:
You can’t do the above without the knowledge that if you do screw up it won’t staple you to the bench. That atmosphere did hang over the team — at least the youth on the team — the past three years, and it does seem to be gone now for the most part. (I mean, seriously, read this story from Larry Brooks and the quotes from the players.)
Let me take a moment here to interject something: I am aware that some of you seem to think that this site is turning a blind eye to Quinn’s flaws and believe he’s some magical unicorn sent from the heavens. The truth of the matter is that coverage has to change based on the state of the team, and for this year and maybe next year Quinn’s success will come from his ability to lay the foundation of the future with this team’s youth. So please understand that we’re not ignoring flaws, we’re simply prioritizing what is and isn’t important relative to the state of the team, and what the goal is. And in the preseason, score effects for Quinn matters a whole lot less than how he used his young guns. That will come, but not in September.
Brooks had another article on Tuesday that referenced Quinn pulling Lias Andersson aside to have a one-on-one with him.
We know that wasn’t happening before and is happening now. Whether or not Quinn — who is known as a defensive specialist — has had these conversations with DeAngelo isn’t confirmed, but it’s hard to believe they haven’t been had. Especially with quotes like this:
"I've been fortunate enough to be in this profession long enough to know that you don't coach a 30 year old the same way you coach a 21 year old." - #NYR coach David Quinn— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) September 14, 2018
From watching DeAngelo twice, he looks like a different player. It’s worth noting that he looked similar last year before October, and didn’t really do all that much to help himself post-being sent down.
Outside of playing uninspired hockey for the Wolf Pack where he put up 13 points in 29 games; DeAngelo got into a series of small twitter fights during a Rangers game (he was obviously still with the Wolf Pack) that went viral in the Rangers’ community — deservedly so. When DeAngelo was forced back into the lineup due to trades and a series of injuries, he was actually playing quality hockey until he too got hurt. We lamented it then as a lost opportunity to get the hard look at DeAngelo we all wanted.
Well we’re getting it now, and things are going about as well as they can be. There’s a small sample size, of course, but it’s all we have to go on under the new regime. The bigger stuff will come in October, obviously, and it remains to be said he hasn’t assured himself a spot on the team yet. Pionk and him seem to be battling for that final spot, and interestingly enough Pionk has only played in a single preseason game. It’s worth noting Pionk can be sent down to Hartford without having to go through waivers, which changes the scope of the situation a bit as well. It’s also worth noting that through their three combined preseason games DeAngelo has been the better player, and I’m not sure it’s been that close.
All that aside, DeAngelo is a hell of a lot closer than he has been to being a regular member of the defense. Some of that comes with a new voice/approach behind the bench.
A lot more of it comes from him himself.