In many ways, Tyler Angle had already beaten the odds when the Blue Jackets made him the 212th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
It’s an incredible accomplishment to reach that point in any hockey career, especially for someone like Angle who was told throughout his life he just didn’t have what it took to make it to the highest level.
Yet the motivation still stirred inside of Angle, whose 5-foot-10 stature belies a competitive nature that is obvious anytime he takes to the ice. So even after being selected by the Jackets in the draft — six picks from the end, he’s sure to point out — he still saw a reason to get a new tattoo.
The script writing runs from his right elbow toward his hand and spells out what could be seen as a personal motto.
Height doesn’t measure heart.
For someone who has always heard that his size (or lack thereof) would keep him from realizing his dreams, it’s a fitting message.
“I used to get that a lot when I was growing up,” Angle said Monday after the first day of the Blue Jackets’ development camp. “When I was in the OHL draft, too, that was the biggest thing. I used to hear it all the time from the OHL scouts — ‘This guy is too small.’ I was a lot smaller in junior hockey, and that is what used to bother me a lot.
“My dad and I used to sit down and talk and he’d say, ‘Listen, you have to have the biggest heart out there. Obviously, if you’re the hardest worker out there, they might say you’re smaller but they might say you’re the hardest workout out there.’ That’s always something I had in the back of my mind.”
So far, the score is Angle 1, Doubters 0 after his first pro season earned him a three-year entry-level deal from Columbus. Last year wasn’t always the easiest, of course, with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting not just the hockey season but the world. Had things been normal, Angle would have gone back for a fifth season with Windsor of the OHL, where he had been one of the league’s most consistent players in 2019-20 when he racked up career highs of 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games for the Spitfires.
But the OHL season never got started because of the pandemic, so the center/wing was invited to join the Cleveland Monsters at the start of the AHL season. After being a healthy scratch at the start of the season, Angle ran with his chance when it finally arrived, finishing with more than a point per game with an 11-13-24 line in 23 games.
He announced his presence from the very beginning, scoring on a breakaway on his second-ever shift. He added a goal and an assist in game two, and by his fifth game, he had a five-game point streak with four goals and three helpers and never came out of the lineup from there.
“I didn’t really know how I was going to do in that game with the older guys, guys that have been in the league and have had a lot of time in the league,” he said of his debut. “For me to come in in my first game and do what I did, it couldn’t have gone any better.”
As for a season in which he finished tied for eighth in the OHL in points per game among players with at least 20 games on the season, he said it helped show him he belonged — quickly — in pro hockey. He also credited the veterans in Cleveland who helped make his transition so easy.
“Credit to my teammates and all the older guys in Cleveland, the coaching staff,” said Angle, who will turn 21 later this month. “Even though the years was weird, we had a pretty good group down there. They helped us young guys, especially myself, come into our roles and kind of fit in with those older guys. You’re playing with linemates who are older than you. It’s different than when you’re in junior hockey and you’re the old guy. They teach you the ways of being a pro athlete, a pro hockey player, and how it works there and your role there in Cleveland.”
The next step for Angle, as he sees it, is to do it again. The Thorold, Ontario, native isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and one good season at the pro level is just that. He still hasn’t reached the ultimate dream of making it to the NHL, and with the Blue Jackets on the search for center depth, the opportunity could be there.
“Obviously (last) year couldn’t have gone any better for myself,” he said. “I think my focus this year is, ‘Don’t let it be a fluke year.’ You could say that it was all luck with it being a Covid year and the shortened season, but for myself this year, I’m going to go into the year trying to prove it wasn’t just luck and go in there and try to do the same stuff I did last year.
“I want to make the Blue Jackets. If that doesn’t happen, you could always get called up during the year. I think that depends on how you’re doing throughout the year, and that’s my focus right now.”