Tony DeAngelo is a breath of fresh air

Ryan Strome, who had four points, gives good friend and teammate Tony DeAngelo a handshake after his overtime winner gave the Rangers a 5-4 win at Toronto. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

In what turned out to be a great weekend for the Rangers, they managed to sweep the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs over 24 hours. After recording two assists in a 5-3 home win over Carolina on Friday, defenseman Tony DeAngelo capped off consecutive victories by scoring the game-winner in overtime to beat Toronto 5-4.

One of the best Blueshirts aside from headliners Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, DeAngelo continues to produce for this team that’s now climbed back into the wildcard race. In withstanding a late Leafs push that included Auston Matthews tying goal with under a minute left in regulation, the Rangers improved to 19-15-4 with 42 points through 38 games. Counting Sunday night’s games, they trail Hurricanes by six points and Flyers by five.

At this point, the super talented Lightning are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Their latest win keeps them within a point of third place Florida in the mediocre Atlantic Division where only the Bruins are a virtual lock. You have to believe the Bolts will surge ahead of both the Panthers and flawed Leafs into second. That would leave Toronto and Florida to battle it out with the perplexing Canadiens and possibly Buffalo for a top three spot. Whoever isn’t third will battle a bunch of Metropolitan Division teams for the two wildcards.

While we don’t know how it all will shake out, DeAngelo is proving that his breakout year in ’18-19 isn’t a fluke. Following establishing career bests in assists (26), points (30) and penalty minutes (77) in a career high 61 games while learning about discipline under David Quinn, the 24-year old from Sewell, New Jersey is one of the biggest NHL bargains. A gifted player who makes $925,000 finds himself among the top 10 in D scoring with 28 points.

That already includes new personal bests in goals (8) and game-winners (2) with the latter category both coming in three-on-three OT. He’s in elite company with Rangers legend Brian Leetch for overtime winners. In recent memory among Blueshirts, not many defensemen have put up the kind of numbers DeAngelo could wind up with. Former captain Ryan McDonagh had 43 points (14-29-43) during ’13-14 when he was coincidentally the same age (24). We know how good he was. We’re not comparing.

However, by taking the qualifying offer from GM Jeff Gorton during training camp, DeAngelo bet on himself. He will again be a restricted free agent next summer. By continuing to perform well under Quinn while establishing himself as a reliable puck moving, offensive defenseman, his price is increasing. What will it take to keep him? There’s no way DeAngelo takes less money than he’s worth this time. It presents an interesting dilemma for the organization.

They are rebuilding while remaining competitive most nights. While there have been a few hiccups which you should expect for the NHL’s youngest roster, the Rangers aren’t out of it yet. The next month including a challenging three game stretch in Western Canada that begins at Edmonton on New Year’s Eve, will help determine what they decide. That includes a very hard decision on Chris Kreider, who’s finally picked it up in a contract year. Quite a few playoff contenders have interest in renting him. If they move on from the invaluable Kreider, he’ll be very difficult to replace.

Jesper Fast is also unrestricted in July 2020. However, the versatile two-way forward will come much cheaper. For how hard he plays and how he’s used, Fast might be worth keeping. He’s a team leader and brings a consistent work ethic to the rink. He only earns $1.95 million and is an affordable $1.85 million against the salary cap. Even a rebuilding team can use that sorta player moving forward.

There will also be decisions on Brendan Lemieux and DeAngelo friend Ryan Strome. Strome continues to excel on Broadway. Since Gorton stole him from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner last year, the 26-year old forward has proven he can shift from right wing back to his natural position of center without missing a beat. When Zibanejad went down, Strome stepped up by forming solid chemistry with Panarin.

Even when Quinn has gone away from it, he’s discovered that some combos work better together. Ditto for Zibanejad and Kreider, who’s back on track. On Saturday, Strome had two goals and two assists to highlight an exciting overtime win up North. For a second consecutive night, he shot the puck more and was rewarded for it. That included blowing a slapshot by Toronto starter Frederik Andersen. In the two straight wins, he’s 3-2-5 and plus-four. Though all five points came at even strength, Strome’s addition to the first power play unit helped result in a power play goal for Zibanejad against Carolina. Unlike the indecisive Pavel Buchnevich, who’s struggling with his confidence, he knows what to do with the puck.

With things going well for his teammate who is third in team scoring with 35 points (10-25-35), DeAngelo has continued to throw overwhelming support towards Strome. Even on social media where he called out a Rangers blogger, who highly emphasizes analytics, Tony Dee stood up for his friend. You don’t usually see too many professional athletes too active on Twitter. But the personable DeAngelo is quite the character.

Even new beat writer Vince Mercogliano was amused by his commentary. Clearly, DeAngelo was referencing the 48 shots the team gave up to the dangerous Leafs, who also attempted 90 altogether including 21 that were blocked by gritty Blueshirts and another 21 that missed their mark completely. The Rangers had 38 shots on goal. Only 18 didn’t make it to the Toronto net.

It’s not advisable to allow that many shots daily. Especially with the Leafs owning the Blueshirts in the face-off circle where they dominated by winning a ridiculous 47 of 69 for 68 percent. That means the Rangers only won 32 percent which translated to the Leafs having the puck more. They were able to make up a two-goal third period deficit on goals from Pierre Engvall and Matthews.

That stated, the Rangers didn’t play a bad third. They had eight shots on goal. But didn’t score the insurance marker needed to avoid a Leafs comeback. This was your typical Toronto game where defense was optional. Unlike the past Monday’s meeting, the Rangers came out on top thanks to a very patient Panarin, who waited for the right exact moment to thread the needle for a cutting DeAngelo, who beat Andersen at 52 seconds of OT.

If not for a monstrous diving save from Alexandar Georgiev and a interesting decision to keep play going by moving the puck to Strome, who went behind the Ranger net to get out of dodge, the play never happens. Strome made a good outlet pass for Panarin, who turned on the jets to make it a two-on-one with overtime hero DeAngelo.

Of course, an ecstatic Tony Dee showed his excitement as he and happy teammates came off the ice into the winner’s locker room.

He is well liked too. His personality keeps things loose. When they did a team poll on which Ranger is the funniest, most chose him. This is a young man with a lot of character, who’s never backed down from a challenge. He has overcome a tough start to his professional career to become a dependable player Quinn and his coaching staff can lean on. Don’t forget he was a first round pick by Tampa. He showed a little bit with Arizona, who had enough defensive depth to part with him and their 2017 seventh overall pick to acquire Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta.

Regardless of what he thinks politically, the team must do what’s best for them moving forward. Personally, I think any fan or media member who tries to openly campaign against DeAngelo due to his political beliefs, are very thin skinned and lack good judgment. Nothing has anything whatsoever to do with each other. This is the PC world we live in. Where every word is put under a microscope and over analyzed by people who need to move on.

Too much of athletics is now associated with politics. That’s the last thing I’ll say on it. I root for the logo on the front of the jersey. If DeAngelo can continue to perform at a high level and help the Rangers win hockey games, I’m happy. That’s what it’s all about.

One thing I have come to appreciate is his honesty during interviews. Similar to buddy Strome, DeAngelo is very good at analyzing games. Whether it’s following good wins or tough losses, he does a nice job breaking things down. He continues to also show a keen sense of humor as seen above with the female reporter who asked about his confidence. At the end of the day, you had some pretty pleased players in the room.

They’ll look to keep it going tomorrow to end 2019 the right way. You can bet DeAngelo will be right in the middle of it.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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