It was just a preseason exhibition game for the Carolina Hurricanes, but for defenseman Tony DeAngelo it was much more.
DeAngelo played only six games for the New York Rangers last season, and his time with the Rangers did not end well. His free-agent signing by the Hurricanes was not met well by many Canes fans because of the past controversy he has caused.
DeAngelo, 25, promised he had learned from his mistakes when he signed a one-year, $1 million contract in late July. He promised to play hard and keep his focus on the team, on winning, and keep his emotions in check.
“I think once the fans get to see me play and see me around the community I think they’re going to take a liking to me,” DeAngelo said after the signing in July.
“Camp’s been going good, getting back in shape,” DeAngelo said Tuesday morning after a pregame skate. “It’s good to knock a little rust off and get a few live game touches rather than all kinds of control stuff.
“I’m just going to play my game and not do anything too crazy and get back in the swing of things. ... I’m just trying to get my touch back, my confidence and my repetition back. Play well and play smart.”
He got a good start Tuesday, on the ice at least. DeAngelo helped quarterback the power play, earned an assist on the Canes’ second goal and was in charge on the blue line during his 19:25 of ice time. He played alongside Ian Cole, got some time on both the power play and penalty kill, and seemed to have good chemistry with his teammates.
Where does he ultimately fit?
In DeAngelo’s case, control is a key. He can help the Canes offensively, at even strength and especially on the power play, helping offset the departure of defenseman Dougie Hamilton. He can be a very effective player and has been used to quarterback the Canes’ first power-play unit in camp.
But DeAngelo has been a temperamental player in the past. He was suspended in junior hockey for making racist comments. He has been overly active at times on social media, garnering more negative attention. He had an “altercation” with a Rangers teammate last year that resulted in New York buying him out and sending him on his way after six games.
The Canes decided to take a chance on a right-shot D-man who had 53 points in 2019-20, and Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour has liked what he has seen of DeAngelo in training camp.
“He’s one of those guys who has to learn how we play,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday morning. “He’s got the skill set. It’s just getting to that game we expect. I think there’s a big learning curve for all the new guys but he’s been good. He’s been great, actually.
“We’ll see. The games will tell where we’re all at and where they are at.”
DeAngelo wasn’t the only new face on the roster Tuesday. The Canes also had forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Derek Stepan and Josh Leivo playing, along with defensemen Cole and Eric Gelinas. Goalie Frederik Andersen, once a Carolina draft pick, was in net for his first game with the Hurricanes.
Brind’Amour has had DeAngelo paired with Cole, twice a Stanley Cup winner, in camp and likely will do it once the regular season begins Oct. 14. While not a babysitter for DeAngelo, Cole does have that calm, veteran presence on the back end and is defensively sound.
“He’s an offensive guy, so if I can do my job and play as quick and get pucks in transition, hopefully that will give him the opportunity to jump up and create and do what he does,” Cole said.
DeAngelo played at times with veteran defenseman Marc Staal with the Rangers. Being paired with Cole, he said, could be much the same.
DeAngelo can score goals. He can be a playmaker on the back end. The ability is there.
But will there be another emotional blowup, another DeAngelo problem? Only time will tell.