The ex-Rangers fueling the Hurricanes this postseason


NEW YORK — Tony DeAngelo swears that playing the New York Rangers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs doesn’t change anything on his end.

“I could care less who the opponent is,” the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman said. “Real good team. Real good power play. I know from experience.”

DeAngelo wore a Rangers jersey for four seasons. He is one of six current Hurricanes who recently played for the Blueshirts, including forward Jesper Fast (seven seasons), goalie Antti Raanta (two), defenseman Brady Skjei (five), defenseman Brendan Smith (five) and center Derek Stepan (seven).

Once local heroes, they enter enemy territory for Game 3 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden (3:30 ET, ESPN). At least they know what they’re in for.

“I think anytime you have familiarity, it helps. But I think more than anything, it’s just a lot of guys with playoff experience,” Smith said. “I would take that more than MSG experience, but I think that helps for sure.”

Here’s a look at the Broadway past for six current Hurricanes and how they feel about this battle among friends.

DeAngelo has the most noteworthy connection to the Rangers, having had the most unceremonious departure.

The Arizona Coyotes traded him to the Rangers in June 2017 along with a first-round pick. Because the NHL has more random interpersonal connections than “Game of Thrones,” he was actually traded for his current teammates and fellow ex-Rangers Raanta and Stepan.

DeAngelo played 167 games for the Rangers in four seasons, amassing 92 points. Most of that was logged in 2019-20, when DeAngelo had 53 points in 68 games, when he finished 12th for the Norris Trophy.

DeAngelo had a history of disciplinary issues before joining the Rangers. He was suspended twice during his junior career in the OHL, including for violating the league’s policy covering “homophobic, racist, and sexist language” and abuse of officials. He also was suspended for three NHL games in 2017, while with the Coyotes, for physical abuse of officials.

“It’s never happened again. I was regretful of it,” DeAngelo has said of the slur. “I’m still friends with that guy and took the time to apologize to him. I did what I had to do there, went to some [sports psychology] counseling classes back then. It was in the heat of the moment of the game, and I wish I could take it back. It hasn’t happened again, and it will not happen again.”

His time with the Rangers effectively ended in February 2021. He was kicked off the team after six games for disruptive behavior, which included a physical altercation with goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after a game. They bought out the last year of his two-year contract in June, making him a free agent.

After losing offensive defenseman Dougie Hamilton in free agency, the Hurricanes inked DeAngelo to a one-year contract worth $1 million. DeAngelo ended up as their fourth-leading scorer this season with 51 points in 64 games.

Was he concerned about the reaction from a playoff-pumped crowd at Madison Square Garden when he touches the puck?

“I could care less. I don’t care who boos me. If they want to boo me, be my guest,” DeAngelo said. “What are you booing? You’re booing a guy skating up the ice.”

He said there’s familiarity between him and his former teammates on the ice.

“I think that there’s some stuff, especially what the forwards do,” he said. “I’m sure they’d say the same thing about me in their locker room.”

What are they saying about DeAngelo in the Rangers’ locker room?

“I don’t know,” DeAngelo said. “You guys probably think about mean things, but I think it’s nice things.”

Fast was an underrated gem with the Rangers from 2013-14 through 2019-20. He was one of their best defensive forwards, he killed penalties and he had strong underlying numbers while pitching in offensively.

He was a five-time winner of the Rangers’ Player’s Player Award — given to the player who best exemplifies what it is to be a great team player — which tied him with franchise icon Jean Ratelle for most wins.

He left for a three-year contract with the Hurricanes in 2020.

“It’s a little weird, but that’s how it goes. There’s always a business side to it. It happens,” Fast said. “Looking at the players they got in the draft, and the players they got in the offseason, I’m not surprised at the season they’re having.”

Fast had 34 points in 82 games for the Hurricanes, both career highs. He doesn’t think the trip back to Madison Square Garden for a playoff series will be awkward — for himself or the other ex-Rangers.

“Maybe at the beginning of the year, when we were all coming in. But now that we’ve played them, that’s behind us now,” he said.

Skjei played five seasons with the Rangers, skating 307 games. He was in the second year of a six-year contract worth $31.5 million when the Rangers flipped him to the Hurricanes — both due to their salary-cap constraints and because Carolina was willing to ante up a first-round pick.

Smith played with Skjei in New York.

“Honestly, I saw it right off the bat. I was able to play with him right when I was traded. The sky was the limit with him,” Smith said. “You know everything that he can do. He’s so gifted. He’s one of the fastest D-men in the League. This year, he’s been put in a real position to succeed. If he’s not our best D-man, he’s right there.”

Skjei has played 141 games with the Hurricanes, including 82 games this season, and posted 50 points. He is third on the team in average ice this this postseason (21:03).

“We just need to go in there are play like it’s any other game. Play our style. We’ll be all right,” Skjei said.

Stepan was a Rangers mainstay and fan favorite for seven years, amassing 360 points in 515 games. He had 15 points in 24 games during their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. He was traded by the Rangers with Raanta to the Coyotes for DeAngelo and a first-round pick.

The Hurricanes are his third team in three years, with a stop in Ottawa between Arizona and Carolina. He had 19 points in 58 games with the Hurricanes this season, moving in and out of the lineup. Stepan appeared in Games 4, 5 and 6 against the Boston Bruins, playing under 8 minutes in two of the three.

“Nobody likes being out. I’m no different,” Stepan said at the end of the regular season.

Smith played five seasons with the Rangers after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in the 2016-17 season. His tenure didn’t start off well. Smith was less than eight months into a four-year, $17.4 million contract when the Rangers put him on waivers on Feb. 8, 2018 — his 29th birthday. He has said his confidence was shot, but he stayed in the NHL by any means necessarily. That included a move from defense to forward in 2019.

Smith was signed by the Hurricanes in July 2021 and played 45 games with them in the regular season.

“Playoffs is a whole different ballgame,” he said. “I just try to keep myself prepared and ready. I envision myself playing at this time. I think you have to.”

Smith has played in all nine playoff games for the Canes and has three points — including the game-winning, short-handed goal in Game 2 against the Rangers.

He said his time in New York has informed his approach to playing them in the postseason.

“There’s still some tendencies, obviously. I think [coach] Gerard Gallant has done a fantastic job with that group. He’s harnessed and moved them in the right direction. They made some great offseason acquisitions. But you know their tendencies by practicing with them for 4½ years, so I know some of those guys there,” Smith said.

Guys like Artemi Panarin, against whom the Hurricanes have played well defensively in the series. He didn’t register a shot in Game 2.

“Our battle level is high. They’re great players. We took their time and space. I think that’s the big thing,” Smith said. “There are a lot of times when Breadman tries to create his space, but if you stay with him, try to take that space away from him, he can’t make those elite plays.”

Raanta spent two seasons with the Rangers, from 2015 to 2017. He appeared in 55 games, went 27-14-5 and posted an impressive .921 save percentage. They moved him to the Coyotes, with whom he played 104 games over four seasons, excelling when he was healthy.

Smith was so effusive in his praise of Raanta after Game 2 versus New York that he evoked a name that’s sacrosanct to Rangers fans: The King, Henrik Lundqvist.

“I just think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s done, right? Coming in and playing the way he is … it’s a testament to how hard he works in practice. He battles in practice. He didn’t want to get scored on any time. I think it carries over,” Smith said. “He never wanted to be scored on. Even in practice. He’d get upset when you did. Maybe that rubbed off on [Raanta], playing with him.”

The Hurricanes signed Raanta as a free agent last summer, and he has had the crease nearly all postseason in place of injured starter Frederik Andersen, outside of two appearances by rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov against Boston. Raanta has a .939 save percentage, going 5-2 in eight games.

Raanta said he has fond memories of his time in New York, including the birth of his daughter and playing with Lundqvist for two seasons.

“When I was in New York, obviously what Hank was doing there was eye-opening for me. It was 2015, probably his seventh or eighth year in the league. He was one of the best goalies,” Raanta said. “I was like, ‘Obviously, this is the reason why he’s the best goalie.’ He was always working, always trying to get better. In New York, he was one of the best in the league. As a goalie and as a human being, it was fun to work with him and get to know him.”

Now, Raanta has a chance to extend the Hurricanes’ lead in the series in Lundqvist’s old stomping grounds.

“The atmosphere in MSG is pretty nice,” Raanta said, “when you play there as the home team.”

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