Not only are the Tampa Bay Lightning one of the best teams in the NHL right now, but the Eastern Conference playoff champs are also flush for the future. Jonathan Drouin still hasn't been unleashed yet, while Adam Erne just completed a solid Memorial Cup tournament for Quebec. Then there's Anthony DeAngelo, who earned the CHL's defenseman of the year award on the weekend in Quebec City.
This season was great for the New Jersey native – and not just because he put up a ton of points.
DeAngelo was a great debate point before last year's draft in Philadelphia. Playing for the OHL's Sarnia Sting at the time, he was a classic offensive defenseman with undeniable talent. But two suspensions during the campaign – for verbally abusing an official and a teammate, respectively – brought up red flags.
In the wake of Tampa selecting DeAngelo 19th overall, Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray noted that the Bolts had done exhaustive research on their new prospect and came away happy. And it's already paying off. DeAngelo didn't have any suspendable outbursts this season and was added to the Soo Greyhounds before the trade deadline in an effort to bolster an already impressive lineup. So why was this season so different?
“Just a little bit of maturity," DeAngelo said. "A lot of things happened in Sarnia that I was frustrated about – there were a lot of losses. Going into this year it was a different mindset. It was a long season, so we could lose 10 and then win the next 15; you never know. Then going to a new team with new guys, it was just smooth sailing.”
The Greyhounds disappointingly fell short of the OHL championship series, falling to Connor McDavid's Erie Otters in the Western Conference final. But DeAngelo still had a great impact on the team overall, scoring nearly two points a game in the regular season and ranking second in playoff scoring by a defenseman with 16 points in 13 games.
“He fit in well," said Soo coach Sheldon Keefe. "He’s a strong personality and as a result, players gravitate to him. The way he pushes the pace offensively and the way he challenges our guys to be better raised the level of our play. He’s a guy who challenges you every day as a coach and keeps you on your toes. That was part of the process for me, in terms of dealing with that, and he was great for us.”
Those who see DeAngelo on a regular basis indicate that he has a totally different personality on game days than he does casually. His intensity is incredible when there is serious hockey to be played, which he has obviously come a long way in harnessing.
And though his personality is strong, he had no problem ingraining himself with the Greyhounds, as players such as Justin Bailey, Bryan Moore, Tyler Ganly, Darnell Nurse, Nick Ritchie and Tyler Hore were all friends of his before joining the team.
“It might have been tougher if I was a younger guy," DeAngelo said. "I was more of a veteran in the league and I wasn’t afraid to open up quick. I knew a lot of guys on the team already, so it was easy for me to go into that situation and be the way I was in Sarnia.”
DeAngelo will turn pro next year, with his likely destination being AHL Syracuse. That's an easy drive for family and friends in New Jersey, not to mention a good incubator for Lightning talent. Many of the current Bolts spent time with the Crunch – including all three 'Triplets' and Alex Killorn. With his junior career finished, DeAngelo can now watch Tampa compete with Chicago and dream about what is to come for him.
“It’s exciting to see them in the Stanley Cup," he said. "You picture yourself being there and they’re building a great organization. I’m happy to be a part of it.”