He’s replayed the sequence over and over in his head: stepping out onto the ice in front of thousands of fans, hearing his name announced on the PA system, skating against the best hockey players in the world.
Tonight, DeAngelo, the Lightning’s first-round pick (19th overall) back in June, makes his NHL debut -- albeit preseason – against the Dallas Stars at Amalie Arena, turning dream into reality.
“I think visualization is a big part of the game,” the 18-year-old said. “Even when I was back in Sarnia or anytime playing hockey, I think you need to visualize. Tonight, once you know who you’re playing against, what team you’re playing against, it makes it easier to get ready for the game, be ready to go and prepare the right way.”
When asked if he scored a goal while visualizing his opening game, DeAngelo smiled.
“You always do in your mind, but I’m not going to go crazy about that,” he said. “I’m just going to try to play. Whatever comes, comes.”
Last season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, DeAngelo played in 51 games, scoring 15 goals and collecting 56 assists for 71 points, second best on the team.
It’s those offensive numbers that have the Lightning coaching staff excited to see DeAngelo’s playmaking ability in a live-game scenario.
“He’s good at finding the holes, especially in the offensive zone, whether it’s on the power play, whether it’s even strength jumping off the ice,” Lightning assistant coach George Gwozdecky said. “He’s a guy that I think as time goes along is going to gain more and more confidence with his timing and the pace of the game and realize that he can be a threat to shoot, to score as well as just to make plays for other guys.”
DeAngelo said he found out he would be playing tonight from a text message.
“I started getting excited while I was sleeping,” he said. “I was able to sleep pretty good, which is nice. Just go out there and try to play my game and see what happens.”
Lightning forward Steven Stamkos has gotten to know DeAngelo well during training camp and said he told the youngster exhibition games are a good chance to showcase one’s talents.
“I’m excited to see what he can do,” Stamkos said. “Today, it’s more about go have fun. Don’t be afraid to play your style.”
Stamkos said his right leg has felt better during training camp than it did at any point after returning from injury last season.
But, he won’t know for sure exactly how well the leg holds up until after tonight’s preseason game against Dallas.
“I think getting back to the game is really the only way you can gauge that, so, very excited about that,” Stamkos said. “It’s obviously still not a regular season game, but this is where you kind of have that feel out process and try to get those kinks out before the season starts.”
Stamkos said his dynamic skating style is one area that’s improved considerably since the end of last season.
“I think it’s those first couple steps, that explosiveness that is a big part of my game,” he said. “I definitely feel a lot more comfortable in that regard. We’ll have to wait and see until the game, but in practices and scrimmage, the skating is an asset of mine and I thought I was kind of a step back last year even when I did come back.”
Another Bolts player who dealt with an injury in 2013-14 will also see action for the first time tonight. Goaltender Ben
Bishop is expected to split time with free agent acquisition Evgeni Nabokov against the Stars.
Bishop said his offseason wrist surgery hasn’t been a hindrance during training camp.
“I’m playing pretty much as normal as normal is,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to getting into a game routine, getting a nap and coming to the rink and playing a game.”
Sitting the first two preseason games has been a challenge for Bishop, who said he is itching to get back on the ice.
“You want to get out there, especially after watching the last few games last season and coming out and watching the first ones again,” he said. “It’s kind of like ‘not again.’ So, it’ll be fun to come tonight and play. I just want to get back into rhythm. You want to start feeling the rushes and adjust to a real game.”
Kristers Gudlevskis was nearly flawless in Thursday’s 1-0 loss at Nashville. The Latvian netminder stopped 31-of-32 shots. The one score he allowed, however, an early first-period goal to Filip Forsberg, turned out to be the game winner.
Still, Gudlevskis was pleased with his performance after a rocky start.
“Now, I have a lot more confidence in myself, that’s the main, most important thing,” he said.
With Gudlevskis and Andrei Vasilevskiy putting up back-to-back solid outings in Tampa Bay’s first two preseason games, the battle to see who will start in Syracuse should be an interesting battle. If nothing else, the Lightning can feel confident they have two capable replacements if something were to happen to Bishop, the starter, or backup Evgeni Nabokov.