Perception matters: Analyzing the Tony DeAngelo vs. Neal Pionk debate

Tony DeAngelo or Neal Pionk?

That seems to be the most recent debate that has hit social media, as fans have weighed the pros and cons of both players. Both players are smooth skaters. Both players can move the puck well. Pionk seems to have a more well rounded game, while DeAngelo appears to lean more towards the offensive defenseman role. Both play RD, where the Rangers have Kevin Shattenkirk, Adam McQuaid, and sometimes Brendan Smith. There appears to be a logjam, hence the debate.

Before unpacking the debate, let’s look at actualities for the Rangers. This really shouldn’t be about one or the other. It should be about finding time for both of them to grow, and then make a decision down the road. However the debate is the debate, and here we are, talking about it. But I digress.

Pionk has a reputation of being a more sound defenseman in his own zone. However his numbers show he is struggling mightily. The reality of the situation is that Pionk is still struggling to adjust to the NHL game. That’s fine. That’s why the Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild. He’s scoring, so he’s adding something to the lineup, which is all you can ask for.

DeAngelo has a reputation of being poor in his own end, but an offensive juggernaut. He’s put up a line of 2-5-7 in nine games, which is very solid. Pionk has a line of 3-6-9 in 15 games. Also solid. It looks like we have two very similar players.

Getting into possession numbers, it becomes clear that one is performing better, though.

DeAngelo Pionk
CF% 45.85% 40.77%
SCF% 45.16% 42.25%
xGF% 46.74% 44.98%
GF% 71.43% 31.25%

It’s very early on, but all of these numbers lean towards DeAngelo as the better performer so far. This shouldn’t surprise many folks, DeAngelo comes with first round pedigree, and Pionk was an undrafted free agent. However there is still a perception that DeAngelo is terrible in his own end, and Pionk is not.

This perception is not just for us fans looking at the numbers either. David Quinn routinely gives Pionk all the defensive zone starts while DeAngelo gets all the offensive zone starts. While this doesn’t tell us much about how it impacts their numbers –it’s been proven that zone starts don’t impact possession numbers that much, whether I like that conclusion or not– it does tell us how the coach perceives both players. DQ thinks Pionk is better defensively. DQ thinks that DeAngelo needs sheltered starts.

That perception drives the conversation and the debate. Pionk is viewed as more well rounded, thus fans would prefer to keep him over DeAngelo. However early on, that doesn’t appear to be the case. DeAngelo actually has Pionk beat in every statistical category, including all scoring rates. This isn’t a true debate as to who is better. The answer is clear, at least for now.

Or is it?

I ran this poll last night, before this post ran. I have no idea what the results will be. I’m assuming people will figure out the players, thus will skew the results. However it should be noted that before people started figuring out Player A was DeAngelo and Player B was Pionk (it really wasn’t hard to figure out), DeAngelo had the lead by a country mile.

And now we see Pionk winning this debate. Add player names, and Pionk wins because he is perceived as more well rounded. Leave just the numbers, and DeAngelo wins the debate.

Now this is a bit of a silly discussion to have at such an early point in the season. Neither has hit 20 games under Quinn. Both will likely have, at the very least, another year under DQ before any decisions are made regarding their futures. The numbers tell a story, but it’s early and it’s almost impossible to get a read on where they will wind up at the end of the year.

But when it comes to the debate of Pionk or DeAngelo, the answer right now is both. Both need to be playing. Both need to be working through their issues on the ice. Both need to be properly evaluated over a full season (and more!) before anyone can truly judge what each player is. The debate of DeAngelo vs. Pionk is just that, only a debate. There is no actual decision that needs to be made, especially in November of the first rebuild season.

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  • Both should be in the line up, period. So should Claesson.

    Happy Veterans Day!! To all our military people, past and present, thank you for your service.

    And a shout out to all first responders as well!!

  • As I sit at the kitchen table this morning I think of all my brothers, and sisters who wore our country’s uniform. The vast majority did so without fanfare, and wanted nothing in return. We all gave something, but too many gave everything, and to them I’m grateful.

    We have a great forum in which we exchange ideas, banter back and forth, and get warm under the collar at times. Stop and think about it, we have this luxury because of the many who fell in defense of this wonderful nation, which I love.

    Leather, Jerry, Chris A, and all the rest who served, thank you for that service, and enjoy your day, you’ve earned it………………..

    • Thanks to you Walt, and the rest who have served and continue to serve our country.

      I definitely didn’t serve though.

    • Hey Walt.
      I’ve been away on business, but still watching our team!
      First of all and most importantly, how is your wife doing?

      Next, I am sorry I wasn’t able to add my wishes to you and all the Vets who have served our Country. Thank you one and all. Also to my Marine brother Leather and any other Jar Head who “suffered” through the Corps, a belated happy Birthday!

  • This is a great analysis. I would also like to point out +/-. I know it’s a dinosaur stat, but I also see ADA actually leading the team with a +6. Pionk is a -7. I do think Pionk plays more against other teams top D that distorts the numbers a bit. I raise the point to praise ADA not diminish Pionk, as I also think we are a better team with these 2 in the lineup. But ADA has been a career minus player at all levels.

    ADA seemed to struggle early in his career with many things such as actually playing D and staying out of trouble; until this year. I thought he was good in camp. I think DQ had some issues with something early on that cost ADA some games on the bench. Take the numbers away and he has been pretty decent defensively. His D positioning has been much better all season long. (small sample size but still good)He gets caught pinching sometimes, but what Offensive D man doesn’t? We wanted to see players developed under DQ and if you watch him he is doing exactly that.

    As for Pionk he has work to do on his game as well. He is also developing. I just think he was in a different place than ADA. I suspect the coach has better confidence in him than ADA.

    The good news is both these guys are moving in the right direction. And the team is actually been much better with them both on the Right side.

    • One must also add some statistical weight to their partners; ADA plays mostly with Sklei and Pionk gets to play with Marc ‘Hot Potato’ Staal.

  • I’m getting the feeling that Quinn is the right coach for ADA. I think we can see that there was a separation between talent, attitude and maturity. Quinn may be the perfect type of mentor that closes those gaps, and I think we are seeing that. Quinn’s experience with college kids, as well as pros may be the best thing that could have happened to DeAngelo. The talent is unquestioned, I still don’t think he is beloved by the coaching staff and teammates, but I think Quinn is really helping the maturation process.

    • Why the jab about teammates? When I see ADA’s interaction with other guys on the team it looks pretty genuine.

    • He’s not beloved by his coaches and teammates? Any proof of that or that just a little feeling that you had? It’s funny when narratives like this pop up when there’s blatant proof of the opposite happening less than 7 days ago.

      ADA was seen talking to a handful of guy’s over the summer on Twitter and Instagram.

      After his fight, Hayes and Kreider wouldn’t let him take 3 full strides out of the box until fist bumping him. The whole bench ( even the far side ) congratulated and everything.

      Coach was raving about him 4 days ago. He changed his tune by telling the media that he’s ” very coachable ” aka I like him now. He also showed it in the last 2-3 games with a lot more minutes.

      I think he’s gotten more love than Stepan by his FO and teammates.

  • Quinn seems to love both ADA and Pionk and is committed to them. For all Pionk’s obvious talent his crappy d to date is concerning. Hopefully with his skill set it can be brought up to at least adequate.

    • It better be Smith

      JG has tainted his rep by trading for him and signing him to that ludacris contract of his.

  • To me there is no debate. Both DeAngelo and Pionk should pkay. Smith and Mcquaid should not.

    Tony is much improved in the defensive zone in a pretty short time. I expect he will get even better in his own end, which will let him do more offensively.

    Pionk allows too much space, but that is something he can improve upon. His offensive skills are obvious.

    Pionk and DeAngelo are good problems to have. Play them.

    • If saying that I agree with you 110% made any sense, I would say it. Instead I’ll just say I agree with you 100% — Pionk should take a page out of Brian Leetch’s playbook on how to play defense while still being a high octane offensive d’man.

      I’m high on both, let both of them play – a lot. McQuaid, Smith and yes, even Shattenkirk aren’t the future — at least not the mid to long term future.

  • Obviously DeAngelo is going to have better numbers when hes not playing against the other teams top lines and getting all the offensive zone starts. Pionk is doing a great job adding offense and playing good enough defense. If he werent making mistakes I’d be concerned that it was just luck and he wont learn. They both are making mistakes which is a good thing in a rebuild and since they are so young. Let them both play and sit Smith, Claesson and McQuiad. Smith cannot play consistent enough to warrant his spot in the lineup right now.

    • The statistical comparison is just not fair. Rightly or wrongly, Quinn is giving the Staal-Pionk pair the toughest defensive assignments on the team and DeAngelo has been more sheltered. Were they equal players, ADA should have better numbers. Now, whether they should be this much better is far less clear.

      • Except OZ versus DZ stats doesn’t really tell us who is getting the tougher defensive assignments, it just tells us where their shifts are started. Having seen ADA paired with Skjei, I can assure you ADA was going up against Top 6 players for a number of his shifts — that said, I think Pionk overall is getting the tougher matchups, just not to the extent OZ starts versus DZ starts would indicate.

        • The transition begins as Pionk and DeAngelo begin to aquire to skills and knowledge to be top 4
          defensemen what stands out first is their offensive potential. I have not seen any defensemen that can
          skate like these two since our last captain. The best part is this I don’t have to wait games to see something
          exceptional sometimes as soon as their next shift. Until I see diff. Skjei, Pionk, DeAngelo are the first three
          pieces to the long term ranger defense.

  • Both of them should be in the lineup because we are a better team when they are. ADA has played really well after his multiple benchings and obviously so has Pionk. The only people creating controversy are the ankle biters who are butt hurt that the narrative they created using useless fancy stats aren’t being followed by DQ. Those people need to get over themselves and enjoy the fact that we have two very skilled offensive dmen who are not perfect but are more then capable in the D zone.

  • Both Players have the potential to blossom into All Stars. They are still young and sometimes it takes D men time to develop their complete game. The move Pionk made from his own end all the way down ice to score that goal was Bobby Orr’ish. You don’t get rid of a young talent like that. In one or two years, I believe he will become an elite defenseman. DeAngelo is maturing by the day, and has equal potential. He has a little more grit to his game, and is slightly better defensively. I would hate to see either one of them go. I am excited to have both on the team! They are our future stars on defense, hands down! Keepers!

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