Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Sarnia Sting’s Anthony DeAngelo, high-ranked NHL prospect, in OHL purgatory

First Anthony DeAngelo was suspended by the Sarnia Sting, now he is suspended by the league?

Greater minds can make inferences about the combo of circumstances — the Sting's Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard of a lineup, its current slide into the first overall slot for the OHL priority selection and its best player having been suspended since the start of the month. Tinfoil hatters would note that in theory that a team drafting No. 1 instead of No. 2 or No. 3 is more attractive to a potential buyer, but ix-nay on the anking-tay.

The 18-year-old DeAngelo, an offensive defenceman who is NHL Central Scouting's 10th-ranked North American skater, has not played since Jan. 31 after being suspended for what was called disciplinary issues, although he's resumed practising. On Thursday, the story changed; TV Cogeco Ontario reported that the Sewell, N.J., native is under a league suspension. That came in passing during an 11-0 loss to the London Knights. The teams reconvene again on Friday in London, where (just kidding, but not really) the goal spread might resemble those usually seen during football season. (Knights minus 6½?)

From Shaun Bisson (@ObserverShaun):

...Anthony DeAngelo is still not expected to return to the line up.

“We're looking forward to some closure on this (on Friday), and we have been told that that is what we're going to get,” said [Sting coach Trevor] Letowski.

“It's been hanging over our heads for a while and it's been a distraction. It's not an excuse for the product on the ice, but it's certainly been a distraction and we're hoping for some closure.” (Sarnia Observer)

It's important to emphasize that DeAngelo is an 18-year-old at a delicate point in his athletic and personal path. There should be an expectation of a modicum of privacy and some abstention from assuming the worst about why he was in the Sting's doghouse. At the same time, it seems outlandish a team would sit a player for absolutely nothing.

That does not remove the onus on the Sting and the OHL to be clear about what is going on, especially when it is opening the door to members of the league's audience wondering about the integrity of the games.

DeAngelo is the OHL's leading defenceman scorer with 60 points in just 43 games for a last-place team. The only defenders averaging a point per game are, as follows:

Toronto Maple Leafs second-rounder Matt Finn, who plays for a stacked Guelph Storm team that has scored the most goals in the OHL;

New York Islanders pick Adam Pelech, who plays for a stacked Erie Otters team that has scored the second-most goals in the league, and who also was on Team Canada;

— Aaron Ekblad, a potential No. 1 overall choice in the NHL draft who was also on Team Canada.

DeAngelo can be prone to undisciplined penalties and turnovers in his own zone. It's impossible to argue, though, that the Sting are better off without him carrying the puck up the ice and running its power play.

The Sting have not been able to dress a full 18-skater, two-goalie lineup for several weeks. It dressed 16 last night when it received a booting from London and is expected to line up with nine forwards and five D-men on Friday. Not having all hands on deck is a fact of life in major junior hockey. The Sting have a swath of injuries. Summoning affiliated players is not always an option since those call-ups often have playoff games with their teams in lower-tier leagues.

The Windsor Spitfires ran with 15 skaters for an extended period during the second half of last season. Many teams have played short when regulars were out. Even in the NHL, the Calgary Flames once had to play with 15 guys due to salary-cap mismanagement.

It might be all a coincidence but perception is reality in the marketplace. It's always been accepted practice in the OHL that a team realizes a winning season is not in the offing and divests itself of older players, loads up on draft picks, plays the kiddies and imagines a better future. The Belleville Bulls (37 points with 14 games to play), who last night moved into second-last by winning at Peterborough, are doing exactly that without raising a Spockian eyebrow. The Sting (36 with 13 to play), for anyone wondering, were three points ahead of Belleville on Jan. 11, the day after the OHL trade deadline.

However this is resolved, the lasting lesson for the OHL is that it should strive to eliminate the appearance of a tank job. Its counterparts within the CHL each have draft lotteries; it couldn't be that hard to create one among the four teams that miss the playoffs.

Or put the bottom six teams on Jan. 10, the four out of playoff positions and the two sitting in the 8 seed, into a pool and reward the one who plays the best for the last two months. Here are those standings, for argument's sake:

Ottawa 67's 6-8-0-0 0.429 14-22-1-3 0.4
Niagara IceDogs 5-7-0-1 0.423 13-22-2-4 0.39
Plymouth Whalers 5-7-0-0 0.417 15-21-0-5 0.427
Belleville Bulls 4-8-1-0 0.346 12-25-2-2 0.342
Kitchener Rangers 4-8-0-0 0.333 15-24-1-1 0.381
Sarnia Sting 2-11-0-1 0.179 13-23-1-4 0.378

Ultimately, getting back to the point, this likely isn't doing much for DeAngelo's NHL draft stock.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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