In DeAngelo, Bolts say they got draft’s top offensive d-man


PHILADELPHIA — To hear Tampa Bay scouting director Al Murray explain it, the club got fantastic value with Anthony DeAngelo at No. 19, a player Murray called “the most skilled offensive defenseman in the draft.”

Upon saying that, I asked if the Bolts had DeAngelo rated higher than Aaron Ekblad — the OHL Barrie blueliner taken first overall — in terms of offensive ability.

Murray’s response was telling.

“Ekblad’s a special player, but he doesn’t have the offensive ability that Anthony has at this point,” he said. “Aaron Ekblad’s a tremendous player. He’s physically strong enough to be in the NHL next year, he’s a shutdown defenseman that plays with a mean streak.

“But when it comes to his actual puck skills and offensive game, he makes a solid first pass and he’s got a bomb for a shot from the point — but we don’t see the same ability to move the puck around, have the same vision, make all the different passes in different zones that Anthony has.”

(Now feels like a good time to mention Ekblad had 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games last year, so he’s no slouch offensively.)

DeAngelo, 18, has shown remarkable offensive capabilities with the Sting. He notched 15 goals and 71 points in 51 games this season — one year after he led all OHL d-men in assists, with 49 — and showed good offensive abilities with Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, when he had six assists in four games.

All was not rosy for DeAngelo this year, however. He was slapped with an eight-game suspension midway through the year for using a slur against a teammate. From Yahoo:

The Ontario Hockey League announced they had suspended [DeAngelo] eight games for violating the league’s harrassment, abuse and diversity policy. It’s the second time this season the 18-year-old has been suspended for contravening the rule which attempts to keep homophobic, racist, sexist, and the other derogatory language used by small minds – out of the game.

DeAngelo faced plenty of questions about the incident(s) leading up to the draft, and it’s possible they played a role in him falling to No. 19 overall. Defensemen like Ekblad, Haydn Fleury (No. 7, Carolina), Julius Honka (No. 14, Dallas) and Travis Sanheim (No. 17, Philly) all went before DeAngelo, even though Murray said an intense research of DeAngelo’s background came back clean.

“The thing we really liked is that he took responsibility for some of the errors he made,” Murray explained. “We checked so many different people that had been in his history. I think you saw maybe our biggest group of people ever up on the stage, because every one of those guys that was up on the stage had spent time going into the background of Anthony.

“We met with anyone and everyone that had ever been associated with him, and everything came back positive.”

With that apparently not an issue, the Bolts can now focus on grooming what might end up being the steal of the draft.

“He’s just an outstanding offensive talent,” Murray said of DeAngelo. “We got a tremendously skilled player who is very smart and highly competitive.”

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.