If you can play, you can play. I love that sentiment. It is the correct approach to sports. It is a double-edged statement, though. As much as it's used positively, it is just as applicable in the negative direction. A player - even a prospect - can commit regrettable behavior. But they may get a shot or another chance at a career in sport because they have a talent that is so difficult to find. To be able to play at the highest level of professional hockey is rare. Hence: if you can play, you can play. The question applies to everyone, but in this year's draft class, it most especially applies to Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.
Who is Anthony DeAngelo?
Anthony DeAngelo hails from Sewell, New Jersey. It took a while, but we finally have a New Jersey-born prospect profiled on ILWT this year. His prospect profile card at NHL.com lists him at 5'10" and 170 pounds. His player profile at the OHL's site and Elite Prospects has him at 5'11" and 167 pounds. Either way, he's not a big man. All three will tell you he was born on October 24, 1995; which makes him one of the older prospects in this year's draft class. After growing through the youth ranks and spending a season in the USHL, DeAngelo joined Sarnia in 2011-12. He just finished his third season and his production jumped dramatically. In fact, it's a big reason why anyone should be interested in this defenseman. Just look at his numbers from EP:
Your eyes are not deciving you, he put up 71 points last season with Sarnia. The prior two seasons show a productive player, but he really hit a new level in 2013-14 with Sarnia. He finished only behind Nikolay Goldobin (Mike did a good profile on him earlier this month) in scoring on a really bad Sarnia team. He would have came close to matching or beating his 94 points if it wasn't for himself. Specifically, his mouth.
DeAngelo got into massive trouble when he used a slur to a teammate during a regular season game. I don't know what it was and I don't want any speculation; it's beside the point. It was so bad that the team suspended DeAngelo before rescinding it so the league could suspend him eight games. Sunaya Sapjuri at Yahoo Sports had a great article detailing the whole issue back in February. In it, she noted that it was the second time he was suspended for violating the league's tolerance policy. The issues with DeAngelo's words didn't end there as he was also suspended for abusing officials. For example, in this article by Shaun Bisson in the Sarnia Observer, DeAngelo got ejected in his return game after serving a two game suspension for abusing officials for - I swear I'm not making this up - abusing officials.
Admittedly, I facepalmed at least three times writing the previous paragraph. To say he has "character issues" just mask the fact that he's proven he's got a big mouth, a hot head, and apparently little sense with both. In addition to hitting the gym, he needs to hit some maturity. Or learn to shut up. That said, the statement is "if he can play, he can play," so let's see what others think whether he can play.
What Others Say About DeAngelo
As usual, let's start with Elite Prospects. His profile has a short blurb marked from August 2013, which was before his season of torrid production:
DeAngelo is a smooth skating, offense-generating defenseman who has some very quick feet. He's slippery and very creative with the puck. His offensive awareness is incredible but is easily out-muscled in his own end and needs to work on his positioning.
Reading he's good at skating is re-assuring. It's hard enough to be a small defenseman, but to not be able to move well is just problematic. It's not a surprise that strength is an issue given his build. It is a concerning point that positioning was mentioned. Keep that in mind as you read further.
In any case, DeAngelo was ranked highly by Central Scouting Services during the season. He received a ranking of tenth among North American skaters in their midterm rankings and fourteenth among them in their final rankings. As a result, his profile page at NHL.com has a quote somebody at CSS. Here's what Chris Edwards had to say:.
"Anthony is a skilled offensive defenseman. His puck skills and playmaking ability are excellent. He sees the ice very well and creates offensive scoring chances with great passes. He has a very good shot and gets it on net. DeAngelo likes to jump up into the rush and makes good decisions with the puck."
Quotes from CSS in NHL prospect profiles are usually complimentary. It's no surprise that it's all about DeAngelo's offense. That's not to say it's bad. Being good on the puck, moving the puck, and shooting the puck are all valuable and can definitely be at the next level where defensemen may not be. That being said, I'd like to point out the quote used didn't mention DeAngelo's play away from the puck.
Moving on, Red Line Report's review of the 2014 CHL Top Prospects game (Note: Link goes to a .PDF) noted DeAngelo's performance for Team Cherry. It is only one game, but it's a showcase game and the summary is about as concise of DeAngelo's game as I've seen yet.
Used great wheels to jump up and skates with head on a swivel looking to make plays. Quarterbacked a couple of power plays successfully...Slick stickhandler with great body control and athleticism. Opposing OHL players on Team Orr clearly aware of his reputation as a hot head were successful multiple times getting under his skin and drawing him into taking dumb penalties. Lost concentration led to defensive lapses.
That really sums it up, doesn't it? DeAngelo can move, attack, get angry, take calls, and lose himself on defense. The latter is an especially large red flag since he does play the position called defenseman.
Of course, as DeAngelo played in the 'O,' one man has seen a lot more than just one game from him. That man is the main man online for following future draft picks playing in the Ontario Hockey League, Brock Otten. He ranked DeAngelo fifteenth on his list of top draft prospects at his blog, OHL Prospects. Here's what he wrote in justifying the ranking. I'm going to intentionally split in the middle as Otten goes from one end to the other on him:
...He's like having a 4th forward out there. His skating ability is absolutely phenomenal, as is his ability to carry the puck and avoid checks. Because of this, he's generally able to enter the offensive zone with ease at this level. DeAngelo also runs the powerplay very effectively. He makes smart decisions there and does a great job of getting himself open to use his shot. It's not incredibly hard, but he's very slippery in the zone and gets himself in terrific position to use it as a defenseman.
That's the good of DeAngelo, the prospect according to Otten. The admirable and desirable traits for an offensive prospect. The points line up with the talent. Anyone who wants to like DeAngelo as a prospective hockey player would surely be convinced by this half. Then there's this:
For all of his amazing talent as an offensive defenseman, he has major short comings as a defensive player. The effort level just isn't there defensively a lot of the time. He'll jump up in the rush to make a play offensively, but coast back defensively. He tends to chase in the defensive zone and gets himself caught out of position. And while he's a factor physically in the neutral zone and in the open ice, he's not nearly engaged enough in the corners or in front of the net. When you throw in the fact that he's undersized, that's when things become even scarier. DeAngelo is the ultimate boom or bust prospect for this draft.
That's the bad for DeAngelo, the prospect, according to Otten. And it's rather bad. It's one thing to not know where to be on defense or to not know what decision should be made away from the puck. It's another to not know those things and not even try. DeAngelo not being big does hurt a bit on defense and I have to agree that it's multiplied by not even being willing to battle in those high-traffic areas. Often, a defensemen will have to get down low to deny or cut an attack short. If DeAngelo is struggling at all of this against his peers; then how will he do against tougher competition against developed men? Hence, Otten's conclusion and I honestly can't disagree with it.
Now, because the draft is close, Otten was able to get the input of those in the media and scouting world to weigh in on the top ten OHL prospects this year's draft class. DeAngelo did not make the top ten, but he did make the honorable mentions section. There were three quotes, two anonymous and one from Dan Stewart. I will site his if only for being brave enough to put his name to it.
"As many of my industry counterparts put it this guy is just a bad teammate. Becaause [sic] of his intensity, emotion or just flat out hate for loosing [sic], whatever the case he plays selfish and goes through spurts where he plays way to individualistic to succeed at the AHL level let alone the NHL level. The flip side of the package is when he plays a team game, as he did through parts of this past season before the consistent losing got the best of his attitude, he is an elite offensive, puck rushing threat form the backend who skates better than ninety percent of current NHLers could ever hope to. His lack of maturity might railroad his hockey career or he might top out as a bottom pairing, power play specialist at the NHL level similar to an Ian White type but also has Erik Karlsson type offensive potential. Wide open potential." - Dan Stewart
In my opinion, this is further justification for Otten's conclusion to a degree. What's notable was his differentation of the style he plays. It isn't unheard of for a young player to go off on his own, so to speak, when the team isn't good. Maybe on a stronger or more structured team, he'd play more of "a team game" and therefore be more valuable. Then again, DeAngelo has proven to have issues with his temper and his verbals so it could be just him instead of how Sarnia was. In any case,
Lastly, I will give the last word in this section to Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports. As part of his Top Shelf Prospects feature, Kerr's been profiling many of the prospects available for the first two rounds and then some. He ranked DeAngelo 29th and, as usual, you'd want to read the whole thing. Kerr did highlight DeAngelo's defensive game and that's what I want to highlight here.
Defensively his game is very much a work in progress. He can be overpowered in front of the net and in the corners. At 5’11″ he is a little short for an NHL dman, but this can be overcome. However he really needs to add some muscle to a small and slender frame, and could stand to become stronger on his skates in board battles and in front of the net. He also needs work on his positioning and fundamentals. He has a tendency to puck watch and can lose his man in the defensive zone. He is also beaten far too often one-on-one especially given his skating ability. He takes a lot of chances and can get burned with giveaways and bad decisions.
I can immediately agree that DeAngelo can - and should - get stronger to help himself out in this area. That he needs to work on defensive fundamentals in his third OHL season confirms what Otten and others have written about him. I suspect he's been leaning on his offensive talents and since he's been successful, he may get more leeway on the back end. That won't cut it at the next level. That being said, decision making can be improved and positioning can be taught. It appears to be up to DeAngelo to get there.
To be fair, Kerr did praise DeAngelo's skating, shooting, and offensive awareness. He called him a "natural power play quarterback." Kerr compared his style of play to Mike Green. If I recall correctly, Green was also a high-scoring defenseman who played on a crummy team in his draft year and had some questions about his defensive game. I half expect this kind of comparison, but I'd like to point out that Green didn't have a sordid past of suspensions for saying regrettable things, he wasn't that small, and he wasn't that deficient in his own end.
A Little Video
Here's a highlight video of DeAngelo scoring goals and completing passes for Sarnia by a user named Prospect Guru on YouTube. It's a little over five minutes of why Sarnia's #7 has garnered such interest beyond his suspensions:
Here's a second video where Vishal Hussein interviewed DeAngelo at the combine. It's more audio than video but if you want to hear the prospect speak for himself, then this a good one as any. He didn't totally shy away from the issues in the interview process among other thoughts:
An Opinion of Sorts
First, let's answer the initial question. It appears DeAngelo can play. Production alone can't describe a prospect. Yet, he's got a NHL equivalent of about 34 points given a NHLe of 0.30 for the OHL. (I think that's right, I'm still using Gabe Desjardens' ratios.) Suffice it to say, the guy's an offensive dynamo. He moves quickly, his shot is great, he makes great reads on offense, and the numbers back that up. I'd love it if the OHL actually listed shots among their stats because I'd like to know how often DeAngelo shot it. Based on the video and other takes on him, I'd expect him to use it a lot - and successfully. For his offensive aspect alone, DeAngelo will definitely get a shot.
However, I am absolutely concerned about the defensive side of the game. In case I didn't make it clear in my commentary in between quoting what others have written about him, I find it shocking he struggles that much in his own end. I don't think it's something that is simply "correctable" with practice, coaching, drilling, and experience. Some of it certainly is. But when I read about a lack of concentration or a lack of effort or not engaging on defense, then that's all on the player. Even if one suggests that he just switch to forward, it's just about a requirement for a regular NHL player to be able to play defense on some level. Everyone has to contribute in some way. Again, if DeAngelo is struggling against his own peers after three full seasons in junior hockey, then how's he going to handle guarding men at the professional level? Being very good on offense and the opposite on defense may be enough to get a job but not necessarily keep it or have a big role. For that alone, I cannot be fully in favor of a DeAngelo selection by the Devils.
I understand that he is one of the top offensive defensemen in the draft. While the Devils have a glut of defensive prospects, adding someone with loads of offensive skill definitely would be welcomed. A case can be made for DeAngelo. But the defensive issues just bother me that much. The fact he got himself suspended for most of the 17 games he didn't play with Sarnia last season is a bit of a concern. I do agree with Craig Button in this NHL.com article about DeAngelo answering these issues at the combine. He's young, he can learn from this, and he can change. Fine, fair. He still could very well be a head case and that's an issue at a personnel level. But based on what I've read about the prospects in this draft so far, I expect the Devils to be able to select prospects with fewer issues and less risk at 30th and 41st overall. I think it's more important that the Devils get someone more likely to make it and reach their potential than swinging for the fences, so to speak, on a prospect at a position they don't need that much help in. I think he can play, but I'd rather have him be someone else's potential headache.
Now that you've read all this, what's your opinion of Anthony DeAngelo as a prospect? What do you think of his offensive abilities and defensive deficiencies? Is either overblown? Is he really a "boom-or-bust" prospect? Did you catch him playing with Sarnia, and if so, what did you think? Where do you think ? If so, would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Anthony DeAngelo in the comments. Thank you for reading.