NEWARK — The last time the Rangers played a game in Tony DeAngelo’s home state, the 23-year-old defenseman was left out of the lineup, the result of what coach David Quinn described as a “maturity issue.’’ But before the Rangers played the Devils at Prudential Center on Monday night, Quinn said that was water under the bridge.
“Tony and I, believe it or not, have always had a good relationship despite the fact that he sat some games,’’ Quinn said. “But the thing that I always come back to is he wants to be the best player he can be, and he understands that what we’re trying to do is make him the best player he can be.’’
In a quiet moment last week, DeAngelo, a native of Sewell in southern New Jersey, said he has no hard feelings toward Quinn, who has scratched him 20 times this season. In fact, DeAngelo said he appreciates how the first-year coach has handled him.
“I think it’s been nice to have a coach that communicates more,’’ DeAngelo said. “I’ve said it a few times: 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. You might walk out of there and say, ‘I disagree with everything he just said,’ but at least you know where he stands.’’
DeAngelo, who fought with the Devils’ Nathan Bastian in the second period Monday, always has had the reputation of being a hothead. He has gotten into trouble everywhere he has played, dating to his days in junior hockey. He was suspended by his own team and then the league for using harassing language to a teammate with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He also served suspensions for abuse of officials in the OHL and NHL with the Arizona Coyotes.
Quinn said he believes DeAngelo has “matured.’’ On the ice, he said the gifted offensive defenseman is “playing a well-rounded game.’’
“Obviously, he’s got the elite brain and passing ability,’’ Quinn said. “He sees things a lot of people don’t see. But I also think the other areas of his game have improved.’’
DeAngelo, drafted 19th overall by Tampa Bay in 2014 and already traded twice (he came to the Rangers from Arizona in the Derek Stepan deal in June 2016), is in his third NHL season. He thinks his game is the best it’s been, with more to come.
“Last year was a tough season, between injury and getting up and down [between the NHL and the minor leagues], so I didn’t really get to do everything I wanted to accomplish,’’ he said. “But this year I kind of feel like I’m getting where I want to be, around this age, and now I think there’s new levels for me to get to, and I think I’m on the right track now, more than I was a year ago at this same time.’’
With four goals, 25 assists and a team-high plus-7 rating in 58 games entering Monday, DeAngelo likely will be considered for the USA squad in the World Championships, and Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury is the general manager of Team USA.
DeAngelo said he hasn’t been asked to play but would love to be part of the team.
“It’s always an honor to play for your country,’’ he said. “Who knows? I’m not even sure that they’ll ask. We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it.’’
Notes & quotes: Pavel Buchnevich, who collided with the Flyers’ Nolan Patrick late in the third period Sunday, was a late scratch. Connor Brickley took his spot. Brendan Lemieux returned to the lineup after sitting out Sunday. Brendan Smith (four penalties Sunday) and John Gilmour were scratched.