The 2014 NHL Draft will be hosted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the City of Brotherly Love, mere miles from where Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo grew up in Sewell, NJ. DeAngelo is one of the draft’s most talented offensive players, but he is also without question the draft’s most controversial player. While his defensive acumen leaves much to be desired as does his size (at under 6-foot he’s considered small by defenseman standards) his track record off the ice makes him at best a kid who needs to mature and at worst is un-draftable. This combination of factors makes DeAngelo one of the most polarizing prospects in recent memory and will make him the talk of the draft right up until his name is called.
Anthony DeAngelo is a talented hockey player, plain and simple. On talent alone he would be a top 12, likely top 5 pick in the entry draft, as he has been a sought after prospect for some time now. It all started in 2010 when at age 14 he became the youngest player to ever suit up and play in the elite USHL before committing to Boston University shortly thereafter. His BU commitment was short-lived as he passed up his NCAA eligibility to play for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2011 where he quickly started lighting up that league. After leading the OHL in assists from defensemen in 2012-13, DeAngelo raised all of his offensive totals while playing in 10 fewer games to really cement himself as the preeminent offensive defenseman in this draft class. However, this season was far from a positive one in many regards as red flags were raised on a number of fronts all year long.
While his point totals were beyond impressive it is important to remember the Sarnia Sting were one of the worst teams in junior hockey. As NBA great Charles Barkley once said regarding players who have great numbers on bad teams, “they’re like looters in a riot”. This means they’re getting their points because they likely have stopped playing to win and individualism has set in. Is this a certainty with DeAngelo? No, but it sure isn’t a good look. His atrocious plus/minus and high penalty minutes this season further show signs of weak defensive play and a need to control his emotion respectively. While his poor plus/minus can be a sign of a weak team, the high offensive totals paint a picture of DeAngelo focusing on his offensive numbers and neglecting his defensive duties, which suggests that DeAngelo is playing his way right into Barkley’s infamous quote.
DeAngelo’s problems this season did not end on the ice, as off the ice immaturity further derailed his season. In February he was handed an eight-game suspension from the OHL for violating the league’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy. DeAngelo made a racist, sexist or homophobic comment at a teammate to bring about the suspension. The NHL has worked to make their locker rooms a safe place for players regardless of race or sexual orientation in recent years, and it would be at best tough for a team to bring a player with this baggage into their organization. While it is not unreasonable to assume DeAngelo learned from his mistake, like teenagers do, it is still a tough sell to invest such a high draft pick on a player with some many red flags.
On pure talent DeAngelo would be worthy of a top 12 pick, however, there is a real chance he falls out of the first round entirely. The best situation for DeAngelo would be to get drafted by a deep team with a proven track record with “reclamation projects (Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings come to mind immediately). Being drafted into a situation like that will give him ample time to develop as a player and more importantly as a person as he wouldn’t be close to cracking the roster of such a team. At best DeAngelo will be a Kris Letang-type power play quarterback, and that may be enough for a team to look past his transgressions. Much like his riverboat-gambling style on the ice, his off-ice development will be worth watching in the next few months and years.