Many names are mentioned in conversation when discussing the best offensive defensemen in the league. Names such as John Carlson, Morgan Rielly, Roman Josi, Dougie Hamilton, Shea Theodore, and Quinn Hughes usually dominate. Tony DeAngelo always seems to get snubbed despite having established himself as a top-end offensive contributor on the New York Rangers‘ blueline.
Why Tony DeAngelo’s Game Deserves More Recognition
Last season, DeAngelo recorded 15 goals and 38 assists for a total of 53 points. He ranked 4th amongst defensemen in total points and even-strength points, higher than the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Cale Makar, and many other big-name blueliners. He also ranked 4th in goals amongst defensemen, higher than John Carlson and Shea Weber. DeAngelo also ranked 10th in assists amongst all defensemen. In terms of goals per 60 minutes (G/60), he ranked 4th amongst defensemen with at least 650 minutes played. For points per 60 minutes (P/60), he ranked 3rd amongst league defensemen with at least 650 minutes played.
Evidently, Tony DeAngelo is in the uppermost group of defensemen when it comes to the basic offensive numbers. Even the defensemen who are regarded significantly above him by hockey pundits do not have such high-ranking rates or totals of scoring.
DeAngelo ranked as one of the most valuable defensemen in the league last season from an analytical perspective. His xWAR (expected wins-above-replacement) of 2.9 was tied with Adam Fox and Victor Hedman for the 5th highest total amongst defensemen. When it comes to xWAR/60, DeAngelo ranked 5th amongst defensemen with at least 650 minutes played. Without a doubt, he was in the top calibre of defenders when it came to providing excess standing points for his team.
On a purely offensive basis, it becomes even more impressive. In xOff/60 (expected even-strength offence + expected powerplay offence) and xEVO/60 (expected even-strength offence), he ranks 2nd amongst league defensemen, behind only Dougie Hamilton. This means his rate of total offensive contribution (both even strength and powerplay time) on a nightly basis is second to only one other defenseman. Looking at totals rather than rates in these categories, DeAngelo ranks first in xOff and second in xEVO. Simply put, DeAngelo was easily one of the best defensemen in the league this year when it came to offensive generation and production.
Success Before 2019-20
A question that is often posed against Tony DeAngelo is the legitimacy of his success. Since he broke out fairly recently and caught many by surprise, there are those who shake their heads wondering whether he is just a “one-season wonder.” In 2018-19 where DeAngelo initially displayed his prowess, the analytics already favored his game. Not only did he produce a solid 30 points in 61 games (on pace for 40 points in 82 games), but he also ranked 18th amongst defensemen who played at least 650 minutes in xEVO/60 and 21st in xOff/60. While he was not at the very top of the league, he was still above many exceptional talents in those said categories, including Victor Hedman and Zach Werenski.
Moreover, even his RAPM rates stayed steady over the course of the two years.
DeAngelo’s chart for 2018-19 (left) is nearly identical to his chart for 2019-20 (right). In both years, his xGF/60 (expected goals for per 60) and GF/60 (goals for per 60) are edging over the 2nd standard deviation. This means he placed in the top 97.5th percentile or higher in those respective categories for those years. Clearly, DeAngelo did not become elite all of a sudden; he broke out two years ago and has been progressing forward since.
In the ever so important transition game where teams cycle from defence to offence, Tony DeAngelo proves to be an important contributor.
In just about every transitional category that is tracked, he has a positive impact. He is especially effective in entering the offensive zone and exiting the defensive zone. This allows for the team to generate chances off the rush or sustained offensive pressure. He is also seemingly solid at preventing zone entrances from the opposing team, which is key to the Rangers who are abysmal in that category. In the transitional area of evaluation, DeAngelo is quite proficient, allowing him to be an effective puck-mover.
Observing the stats is not always sufficient to believe that a player is really as good as people say. When it comes to Tony DeAngelo, the eye test reinforces what the statistics suggest. His offensive capabilities are truly special. He possesses great vision which allows him to make great stretch passes and move the puck down the ice. For example, he makes a slap-pass from deep in his own zone that caroms of the boards and onto the stick of Chris Kreider who scores.
This play demonstrates his elite playmaking ability, creativity, and willingness to try different things with the puck.
Furthermore, he is also an exceptional skater who creates room for himself, loves to join the rush, and knows how to position himself for a pass in the offensive zone. When he gets the chance to shoot, he is precise and can hit his target, as he did in this overtime thriller below against the Minnesota Wild.
He had 12 multipoint contests out of his 68 games played last season. This included a monster 5 point night against the New Jersey Devils where he recorded 3 goals and 2 assists. Night in and night out, DeAngelo is a threat for opponents with the puck on his stick and has the finishing abilities to capitalize on the chances he creates.
The only major knock on Tony DeAngelo is his defensive play. In particular, he struggles in the defensive zone. His positioning and net-front play is quite awful. Additionally, he can sometimes get too caught up in joining the rush and exits the zone early. His aggressiveness with the puck can cause turnovers and lead to chances against.
However, DeAngelo is not the only defensemen with this flaw in his game. Many of the best offensive defensemen tend to sacrifice defence for offence. For reference, his xGA/60 (expected-goals against per 60 minutes) ranks better than John Carlson and slightly worse than Morgan Rielly. For example, John Klingberg, Keith Yandle, Brent Burns John Carlson, and Morgan Rielly are all net negatives defensively. Of those players, only Morgan Rielly has a better xGA/60 (expected-goals against per 60 minutes).
While DeAngelo is by no means the best offensive defenseman in the league, his offensive contributions are extremely noteworthy. Offensively, he exceeds in quite literally every single area of assessment. Defensively, it is obvious that he struggles, but he is not the only one that does so. Since so many other one-dimensional defensemen receive accurate depictions of their attributes, Tony DeAngelo deserves similar appreciation for his gameplay.