PHILADELPHIA — The crowd at Wells Fargo Center proved relentless in expressing their displeasure at the NHL draft.
Every team — especially rivals — and commissioner Gary Bettman were booed incessantly during the event. For one of their own, however, they showed nothing but brotherly love.
With the 19th overall pick, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, a native of South Jersey.
What made the night even more special is that the blueliner went during the first round, before more than 125 of his family and friends in attendance.
"I didn’t get much sleep last night, that’s for sure, and today I had a lot of nerves," DeAngelo said.
DeAngelo could have gone to the hometown Flyers two picks earlier. But the franchise he grew up cheering for opted to select defenseman Travis Sanheim instead.
The snub should make for some interesting games in the future between the Lightning and Flyers, who also established a rivalry in the 1996 postseason and rekindled it in 2003.
"I’m ready to have [the Flyers] as my rival," DeAngelo said. "I don’t care."
Tampa Bay entered the draft having added defenseman Jason Garrison earlier in the day. But there was additional need for depth.
With DeAngelo, the Lightning add a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who has the ability to quarterback a power play. Al Murray, Tampa Bay’s director of amateur scouting, said DeAngelo is an elite player in terms of his competitiveness, hockey sense, skill and skating.
The blueliner displayed those qualities during his third season with Sarnia (OHL) as he posted 15 goals and 56 assists in 51 games.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that DeAngelo models his game after former Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle.
"We have a lot of the same attributes on the ice," DeAngelo said. "I’m going to get up in the play, create offensive plays, move the puck out of the zone."
When DeAngelo will get the opportunity at the NHL level, though, remains unknown. Bolstering his defensive game is a high priority, as is adding bulk to his 5-foot-11, 167-pound frame.
"If he was 6-foot, we think he would be top five in the draft, maybe top 10 in the draft," Murray said. "Statistics say kids at that age are probably going to grow and inch and gain, if they work at it, 15 pounds. We hope he’s going to be closer to 5-11, 185 when he’s playing in the NHL."
There’s also the matter of discipline. DeAngelo served an eight-game suspension for violating the OHL’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy.
Murray said it was a factor the Lightning took very seriously in evaluating DeAngelo, putting more than the usual amount of due diligence into learning about the 18-year-old’s past.
"We’ve spent more time researching Anthony’s background than I’ve ever been involved with in a player in the history of scouting and I have been in the business almost 30 years now." Murray said. "The reason we had so many people up on stage is that all those people had been involved with the process."
The Lightning spoke with people from DeAngelo’s stints with Cedar Rapids (USHL), the U.S. National Team, Sarnia, and, as Murray said, "almost anyone who has been in contact" with DeAngelo.
"There was nobody who didn’t speak very well of him," Murray added. "But he gets mad every now and then and that anger manifests itself with some behavior that he’s going to have to control.
"We feel the risk is not very high. We think he is going to be fine."
For DeAngelo, hearing his named called Friday night opened a new chapter to improve personally, accepting his mistakes and focusing on the future.
"I still had to explain myself and be honest," DeAngelo said of the pre-draft interview process. "Teams need to do their homework. They’re not going to say, ‘it’s not a big deal’ because it was a big deal. It was a mistake. I have learned from it, I’m ready to change."
But there’s only so much he’s willing to modify, and although he hopes one day call Tampa home, his allegiance to this area cannot be swayed.
"I don’t think I’m going to go with the Tampa Bay Bucs," DeAngelo said. "I think I’ll stay right here with the Eagles."
Tampa Bay moved its second first-round pick, acquired in the Martin St. Louis deal, to the New York Islanders for two second-round choices (Nos. 35 and 57). The Lightning will also have selections in the third round (No. 80), fifth-round (Nos. 140 and 142), sixth-round (No. 170) and seventh-round (No. 200).