By all accounts, 2014-15 was a banner season for Tampa Bay Lightning defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo.
The Bolts’ first-round draft pick (19th overall) 15 months ago, DeAngelo began the season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting, his fourth with the team, and put up 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in 29 games.
Midway through the season, DeAngelo was traded to Sault Ste. Marie in the Greyhounds’ push to acquire talent for a league title run. He averaged nearly two points a game in the regular season and had 16 points (all assists) in 13 playoff contests for the Western Conference finalists.
In May, DeAngelo won the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the OHL’s Most Outstanding Defenceman of the Year after leading all league blue liners in points (89), finishing 13th overall in OHL scoring and registering a plus-34 rating. He was selected to represent Team USA at the World Junior Championships.
Yet, ask DeAngelo to reflect on his last year in juniors, and the Sewell, N.J., native can’t get past the lone disappointment in a season full of success.
The Greyhounds were bounced in six games by Erie in the conference finals. DeAngelo was forced to sit out Game 3 with an upper-body injury.
“It was the worst feeling in my career losing in the playoffs last year when I felt we had a team to win, so I kind of just try not to think about that,” he said. “It was the best year of my junior career, and it’s too bad I didn’t win. But, now I’ve just been focused on how I can try to make the big club here.”
DeAngelo is one of 23 players taking part in the Lightning’s week-long rookie camp. The group will compete against prospects from Washington, Nashville and Florida during a three-day tournament in Estero.
The Lightning are hosting the prospect tourney for the first time in team history. The Bolts open Saturday against Nashville (7 p.m. puck drop).
DeAngelo, 19, figures to play a major role in Tampa Bay’s fortunes at the event.
“He looks really good so far,” Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said Friday after the second day of camp. “I think he really dedicated himself to training. He looks fitter, stronger, and he’s so smart. All the other stuff is there, all the little things it takes to play in the league. He’s a hard-working, dedicated kid, so it’ll come. He just needs to keep at it, and this summer he put the work in. That’s good.”
DeAngelo spent most of May and early June away from the ice letting his injury heal and started skating a couple times a week beginning in July in preparation for the upcoming season, his first at the professional level.
DeAngelo is participating in his second Lightning rookie camp.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, different level no matter what league you’re playing in, you’re playing against better players,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn the pace of the game up here, make quicker decisions even than I was making in juniors. I’ll be a bit more confident this year, be able to play my game a little more. Last year, I was a little more laid back, just kind of took it more as a learning experience and tried to see how the game’s played up here. I’ll be a little more uptempo this weekend I guess you could say.”
Tampa Bay signed DeAngelo to a three-year, entry-level contract in December of 2014. Roest said the biggest thing the Lightning want to see this camp is DeAngelo continuing to solidify his play in the defensive zone.
“Now, it’s playing against men,” Roest said. “There aren’t any 16, 17 year olds out there anymore. Now, you’re the kid. So I think it’s just maturing, all the little things it takes to play in the NHL. I think he’s a very smart player, and I’m very confident he’ll do it.”
DeAngelo is likely headed to the Lightning’s American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse to start the season. But Roest wouldn’t rule out the highly-touted prospect getting his first cup of coffee sometime with the Lightning before the season is over.
“We’ll see how everything goes I guess,” Roest said. “He’s definitely got the skill to do it. It’ll be fun to see.”