We’re heading into the Labor Day weekend for those of us in the US, which officially marks the end of Summer. The NFL is getting ready to kick off another season, and Hurricane Earl is paying a visit to those on the East Coast.
For those of you not dealing with hurricane force winds and inches of rain, there’s still plenty to catch up on before camp opens in two weeks. For instance, today’s installment of Ranger Countdown: Michael Del Zotto.
There haven’t been many 19 year old defensemen who’ve played in the league, let alone for the New York Rangers. A first round pick in 2008, Del Zotto made the jump one year after he was drafted, becoming the youngest Blueshirt blue liner since Dave Maloney laced them up in the 1974-75 season. Maloney went on to play 657 NHL regular season games, all but 52 of them with the New York Rangers.
If Del Zotto can carve out a similar career, then he’ll be more than a successful first round draft pick, for a team that has struggled to convert their best drafting opportunities into credible NHLers.
As for the young defender’s season last year, well 9 goals and 28 assists in your first year has to be considered pretty successful generally, particularly when you consider it tied him for fourth on the team in points, and first amongst defenders.
However not all was rosy last season. An ugly plus/minus of -20 was worst on the team, and was a fair indication of his struggles at the other end of the rink. While Del Zotto showed some good strength and hitting, his positional play and footspeed left something to be desired, and will need to be an area of focus this time around.
Even his offense wasn’t all good news. After scoring 3 power play goals in his first eight games, Del Zotto managed just one more tally on the man advantage for the remainder of the season, as his decision making seemed to overwhelm his early confidence.
A scary injury caused by the skate of Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins just before the Olympic break cost him a couple of games, but his game had already dropped off by then anyway.
For his part Del Zotto recognizes that his consistency waned, and has vowed to address it this time around, and it’s hoped his defensive lapses are more just a case of inexperience than some larger issue.
Going into camp this year, he’s already all but locked up a spot in the line-up, and the Rangers will be looking to him to become their power play quarterback on the first unit. With little in the way of competition, it looks like it’ll be his spot to lose.
Perhaps the bigger question might be who he ends up being paired up with this time round. Given the need for a more defensively sound partner, it may simply fall to Dan Girardi once again. Girardi ultimately was moved to partner with Del Zotto as the third pair, and it may have been a contributing factor to his drop off in offense.
Other options including Michal Rozsival and newcomer Steve Eminger don’t look too appealing, though if rookie Ryan McDonagh breaks into the line-up, there may be some consideration of matching the two together.
All in all we’re expecting big things from Del Zotto this year, particularly on the power play. Double figures in goals is not out of the question, and maybe even 40 points for the second year player, let’s hope he can also do something with that plus/minus stat too.
Team: New York Rangers (NHL)
Stats: 9 goals, 28 assists and 32 penalty minutes in 80 games
Team: New York Rangers (NHL)
Stats: 12 goals, 24 assists and 40 penalty minutes in 82 games
Del Zotto wears number 4 in honor of Boston great Bobby Orr