Coach David Quinn has been saying all season that the Rangers have eight defensemen who can play, and, since things went so badly the one time Quinn decided to dress seven of them in the same game, that means – assuming everyone is healthy – two guys who deserve to play are going to be left out of the lineup every game.
For eight of the first 10 games this season, one of those two guys was Tony DeAngelo, the 23-year-old former first round pick whom the Rangers acquired from the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Derek Stepan trade in the summer of 2017. But since an injury to veteran Adam McQuaid opened a spot in the lineup, DeAngelo has stepped in and taken full advantage of the opportunity.
Playing in five consecutive games prior to Friday’s visit to Detroit, DeAngelo scored two goals and registered three points and was a plus-5 with just two penalty minutes. And even if it was nothing more than coincidence, the Rangers had won the last four of those five games.
“That’s a team thing,’’ DeAngelo said of the winning streak. "I don’t take any credit for that. We’re all just trying to get wins.’’
But DeAngelo, a 5-11, 180-pound, righthanded shooter from South Jersey, has indeed played a significant part. It was his goal just before the end of the second period Tuesday against Montreal that started the Rangers’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit in what turned out to be a 5-3 win. And for a player whose reputation has been that of a strictly offensive weapon from the back, he has earned enough trust from Quinn that he’s been put on the ice in defensive situations – penalty kills and five-on-six situations where the Rangers are trying to protect a lead against an opponent that has pulled its goalie for an extra skater.
“Your play dictates what situations you’re going to be put in,’’ Quinn said. “Obviously, you watch guys in practice. I think that’s the other thing I think guys realize, that, you know, we’re watching practice. I can’t help what I see in practice – it affects my evaluation of a player. And we’re constantly evaluating guys; it’s just the profession we’re in. And he’s done a good job in practice and he’s earned the opportunity he’s got in the situations we’ve put him in.’’
Earlier in the season, when DeAngelo was in the process of sitting out six games in a row, Quinn had said he’d spoken to the young defenseman about what he needed to do to get back in the lineup, and he hinted that there was an issue with practice. According to Quinn, though, DeAngelo has addressed whatever issue(s) there is (were).
“Absolutely. He really is,’’ Quinn said. “I like a lot about his game. He’s done a really good job in a lot of areas, and I think this guy can be a well-rounded defenseman – not just a guy who can give you a little bit of offense, but he’s a competitive guy, he can handle bigger players because he’s quick, and he does have a good stick, and he’s been very coachable.’’
DeAngelo never wanted to talk about what it was he and Quinn had discussed, but now that he is playing, he seems much more at ease. And he credited his defense partner, Brady Skjei with much of his success.
“I was just going to be ready whenever I got a chance to play, whether it was due to injury, or not injury – whenever I got in,’’ he said. “I think I’ve been playing well. I’ve been feeling good; feeling good about my game. I thought I’ve been playing with a lot of pace, a lot of speed. I like playing with Brady a lot – it helps me out, playing with him. He can skate, and there’s a trust factor with both of our skating (ability), and if one guy goes (to join the attack), the other guy’s going to be there to back him up if anything kind of breaks down.
“So far, so good,’’ he said. “It’s a process. You’ve got to keep going. I’m not trying to do too much, which I think is a good thing for me right now. I’m just playing hockey.’’
Anthony DeAngelo’s plus/minus numbers have shown a marked improvement over past seasons.
Season, team =/-
2016-17 Coyotes -13
2017-18 Rangers -18
2018-19 Rangers +5