Continuing with the defenseman, today we will examine Michael Del Zotto.
After coming off an impressive rookie season, Michael Del Zotto was poised coming in to this season to avoid a “sophomore slump.” The Rangers’ collective brain trust elected to pass up the chance to draft offensive defenseman Cam Fowler in the 2010 NHL Draft because they felt Del Zotto was the same type of player and the future of the backline, deciding to go the grittier route and drafting Dylan McIlrath, a bruising, Jeff Beukeboom-style defenseman instead. After having a solid training camp, unfortunately it was all down hill for Del Zotto. Not only did he suffer the classic “sophomore slump,” but he was also demoted to the AHL mid-season and has raised some serious doubts within the organization if he can regain the form we saw from him in his rookie season.
Let’s take a closer look at Michael Del Zotto’s roller-coaster 2010-2011 campaign:
What We Expected
You can make the case coming in to this past season Rangers’ fans had too lofty of expectations for Michael Del Zotto. It’s possible to say the same for the Rangers organization as well. DZ put up 37 points in his rookie season (22 of those points came with the man advantage) and looked very much like the heir apparent to the power-play quarterback throne.
However, we all tend to forget how young Del Zotto is. Not to mention his defensive struggles as well. For all the good Del Zotto accomplished on offense, his defensive play left a lot to be desired. He finished with a plus/minus of -20: a scary number to look at. He was inconsistent with his physical play and was guilty of leaving his man to chase the puck.
Realistically, the expectation for Del Zotto was to try and build upon his solid rookie season by improving his defensive play but more importantly becoming a mainstay on the Rangers’ power play.
How He Did
It was a nightmarish season at best for Michael Del Zotto. In 47 games, DZ put up 11 points (2g, 9a). He went through long droughts where he didn’t score points, the longest such streak being 11 games. He was hesitant to shoot the puck and when he did it would miss the net more often than it would hit it. His defensive slipped even more than at any point last season. His confidence slowly waned away with each passing game, affecting all aspects of Del Zotto’s game. It wasn’t a surprise to see his ice time drop with his poor play as coach Tortorella slowly lost trust in the young defender.
The lowest point for Michael Del Zotto was when he was sent down to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL on January 3rd. Tortorella revealed to the media he felt Del Zotto’s game needed some work and, despite still being an important key to the Rangers’ future, he felt Del Zotto needed regain some of his confidence down in the minors. The most puzzling chain of events occurred afterwards when the Rangers’ recalled Del Zotto 3 weeks later, played him in 2 games, then sent him back down again, then recalled him again for insurance due to Dan Giardi’s injury, played in 10 more games, and then finally being sent down to the AHL for the rest of the season. The constant shifting back and forth from the AHL to NHL isn’t the ideal situation for a young & struggling defenseman.
Final Grade: D
Simply put, Michael Del Zotto had a bad season. He didn’t evolve as a player and in fact regressed to the point where fans & the media discussed whether or not it would be better to trade the young defenseman in the right deal. The struggles are all Del Zotto’s responsibility. However, I place some of the blame for his sup-par season on the Rangers’ coaching staff. For all the positive things John Tortorella did this season, turning the Rangers in to the beloved “Black & Blueshirts,” overachieving most of the season and overcoming adversity to make the playoffs, his one glaring mistake was his handling of Del Zotto. Tortorella has a reputation for riding his players, attempting to press the right buttons to get the most out of them. His attempts with Del Zotto seemed to fall on deaf ears, and it looked as if the young defender was completely lost on the ice. By no means am I giving Del Zotto a pass. At times, he displayed troubling signs of immaturity and should have handled his struggles better. Yet, I don’t think management handled Del Zotto’s problems in the best way.
It will be a long road ahead for Michael Del Zotto. After being sent down to Connecticut, he suffered a broken finger that kept him out of action the rest of the AHL season. On May 3rd, it was revealed Del Zotto had a sports hernia that required surgery. The rehabilitation process will have Del Zotto fully healed by the time training camp arrives in September.
To say it will be an interesting offseason for Del Zotto is an understatement. A lot of eyes will be watching him to see what how he carries himself & prepares for next season. The onus falls on him to come in to training camp with a fresh mindset, a mature attitude, and the “arrogance” Torts once said Del Zotto possesses that makes him a better player. Del Zotto is no lock to make the Rangers’ team next season. On the other hand, when Del Zotto plays at the level he is capable of, he is exactly what the team needs on defense.