Contrary to what some of the other pessimistic New York Rangers writers/bloggers out there would like you to believe (I’m looking at you @ScottyHockey), Michael Del Zotto’s third NHL season has been an overwhelmingly positive one.
For a team that’s decimated with injuries – three of the top six defenseman are out including their number one in Marc Staal – the Rangers head into the Christmas break with a chance to overtake first in the Atlantic Division AND first in the Eastern Conference with a good portion of that success due to Del Zotto’s re-emergence.
Find out what’s different with Del Zotto this year compared to last year after the jump.
In his rookie season, Michael Del Zotto burst on to the NHL scene, impressing in training camp and notching 13 points in 12 games to open his NHL career, evoking memories of Brian Leetch. His numbers tailed off as the season wore on, the grind of the long NHL wore down the young blueliner. But, aside from the production, the thing that caught coach Tortorella’s eye was Del Zotto’s confidence – swagger as you so often hear – in his abilities. Torts called it “the right kind of arrogance.” That swagger Del Zotto possessed all but dissipated in his sophomore year.
Del Zotto’s homerun passes were figured out by the opposition. He was making mental mistakes in his own zone, allowing his overall game to slump tremendously. At the worst of it, Del Zotto looked like a child being scolded by his parents and not having a clue as to what he did wrong. His demotion to the Connecticut Whale mid-season last year, in my opinion, was the slice of humble pie Del Zotto needed to necessitate change.
Down in the AHL, he would get the chance to play more minutes in more situations, along with learning from J.J. Daigneault and resident defense guru Wade Redden. However, a rash of injuries would cut his season short, leaving the young defenseman at a crossroads of sorts.
With a stale taste in his mouth from a regrettable season, Del Zotto used this offseason to completely dedicate his time to becoming a more complete hockey player. More than anyone else, Del Zotto knew a spot on defense wasn’t guaranteed and an impressive camp was the only way to make the team. Surprising to his onlookers, he grew both physically and emotionally; realizing task at hand would be great.
Fast-forward to the present, and you can objectively say that every game he’s played this season – along with some of the routine youthful mistakes still – Del Zotto has improved every game. Not sure if you believe that? Watch the latest HBO 24/7 episode, where Tortorella praises Del Zotto’s strong play during a film session.
Does Del Zotto deserve some criticism? Absolutely. He still makes some arrogant cross-ice passes, trying to force the issue rather than letting the play come to him. He still has trouble getting his shot on net at crucial times, including the power play, where you’d like to see more of that power play quarterback talent shine more. By no means is Del Zotto’s game complete yet. However, you cannot deny the strides the 21-year-old has made this season.
Del Zotto’s game comes down to one aspect: swagger. It’s returned in a big way this season and, in my opinion, is the paramount reason why we’re seeing him develop positively again. He’s not afraid to make mistakes anymore, a stark contrast to last season.
Outside of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh – another young defenseman playing incredibly well yet to reach a full NHL season under his belt – Michael Del Zotto has become one of the best Rangers’ defenseman.
What a difference a year can make, right?
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