New York Rangers should trade Anthony DeAngelo for a center

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 15: Anthony DeAngelo
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 15: Anthony DeAngelo /
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Recently acquired defenseman Anthony DeAngelo has yet to play a game for the Rangers. It might already be time to send him packing.

After buying out Dan Girardi, the Rangers had multiple openings on the right side of of their blue line. Anthony DeAngelo appeared primed to take one of those spots when the Rangers used Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to land him.

Two weeks later, the picture looks significantly different. Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk have two of those three jobs locked down. DeAngelo might not still have a spot.

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Defensive logjam

Smith and Shattenkirk combine with Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei to give the Rangers a mouthwatering top two pairings. The four should easily all play over 20 minutes per night.

Meanwhile, New York has at least six players vying for their third pairing. Veterans Marc Staal and Nick Holden remain from last year’s defense. Potential rookies Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and Ryan Graves will compete with DeAngelo as well.

At least one of  Staal and Holden likely gets moved before training camp opens. That still leaves a long list of names battling DeAngelo for ice time.

Alexei Bereglazov comes from the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the runner-up for the 16-17 KHL championship. The Rangers gave him a KHL-out clause. This means they cannot send him to the AHL without potentially losing their prized prospect back to Russia.

Although Neal Pionk’s contract contains no out-clause, Pionk was the premier college free agent defenseman on the market. The Rangers reportedly beat out 20 other teams for his services. Convincing him to pick New York likely involved guaranteeing him a good chance to make the team sooner rather than later.

Ryan Graves spent the last two full seasons with the Hartford Wolfpack. He posted 30 points in 76 games in 16-17. The 2013 fourth round pick is now on the last season of his entry level contract.

DeAngelo comes highly touted himself, especially on the offensive end. On the other hand, he struggles so much in his own zone that prospect expert Corey Pronman questioned DeAngelo’s ability to stick at the position.

At the very least, DeAngelo will have to fight his way past a lot of talent to reach the starting lineup.

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Empty in the middle

The Rangers currently have only two or three NHL-caliber centers on their roster. Only Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes played the position last season. J.T. Miller has not regularly manned the middle since his Hartford days.

General Manager Jeff Gorton talked about New York’s center needs during the Kevin Shattenkirk conference call:

"I would say that we have some ongoing things to try and help us at center, we know it’s a need and a hole there we are trying to fix. We also have the luxury of J.T. Miller, who we feel is a natural center and at some point we are hoping he can make that move and that gives us a little flexibility. We are looking. We have had some discussions with teams and trade scenarios. Definitely aware of the situation and see how it moves going forward."

Very few free agent centers remain on the market. Furthermore, almost all of the most prominent options have already signed elsewhere. This includes Joe Thornton, Nick Bonino, and Martin Hanzal.

The Rangers have to make a trade if they want to add a quality center to the team.

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Why deal DeAngelo

Trading DeAngelo now seems risky, but waiting to trade him could be even riskier. Yes, he could show up at training camp and blow his competition away. But, if he fails to crack the roster or finds himself sitting in the press box, his trade value collapses.

The Rangers are already DeAngelo’s third NHL organization after Tampa Bay and Arizona. He showed a lot of offensive ability while posting 14 points in 39 games as a rookie last year. His defensive game remains a question though.

This is statistician Domenic Galamini’s HERO chart for Anthony DeAngelo.

HERO stands for Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic, but these charts just rank skaters’ even strength play in a few categories for easy comparison: Shot suppression (preventing shot attempts against), shot generation (creating shot attempts for), goals, first assists, and ice time.

Looking at the bar for shot suppression, DeAngelo graded in the very bottom percentile of defensemen. This means his team surrendered shot attempts at the highest frequency in the league when he was on the ice last year.

The caveat is that these numbers come from a very small sample size. DeAngelo has played less than half a full season in the NHL. At 21 years of age, he could very well improve.

The ice time needed to make those improvements might not be available on the Rangers. Shattenkirk’s arrival and Smith’s re-signing signal an intention to contend. DeAngelo likely receives little room for error in New York now.

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Will they or won’t they

Whether or not the Rangers trade DeAngelo depends on whether or not they expected Shattenkirk to sign. Gorton effusively praised DeAngelo at the time of his acquisition:

"He is a guy who can run a PP and is young and can really skate and do a lot of things that we need and with how the game is played today, we like him going forward."

Gorton also noted that they specifically targeted DeAngelo:

"We were asking for him, it’s not like he was being thrown at us. He was the player we wanted and there are some questions about Anthony and his past and we looked into every scenario with this, talked to a lot of people, have done a lot of work regarding him and his maturity. We are really comfortable with our player development and coaching staff and our team here that we can really help him and get the most out of him."

Does Gorton still envision DeAngelo filling that role now that Shattenkirk’s here? If not, DeAngelo may be New York’s best trade chip.

With Stepan and Oscar Lindberg gone, the Rangers cannot afford to deal off any more forwards. They just started rebuilding their struggling farm system, which makes draft picks and prospects off limits too.

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Though Gorton absolutely should try to move Marc Staal and Nick Holden, neither likely brings back a quality center. DeAngelo, however, could help land the difference maker Gorton covets.