|Image Credit: NewYorkRangers.com|
Not a lot going on with the Rangers recently, aside from a blurb from a few days ago that Ryan Callahan's agent has been talking with Glen Sather about a new contract for Cally. I figured I'd use all this downtime to talk about the forgotten Ranger: Michael Del Zotto.
Michael Del Zotto had a rough season 2010-2011 season for the Rangers, and also for the Connecticut Whale for that matter. After being sent down on January 3rd, Del Zotto played in only 11 games for The Whale before a broken finger ended his season in March. He also went onto have sports hernia surgery on May 3rd, although he's expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Del Zotto was drafted because of his offensive ability and showed great promise when he recorded 9 goals and 28 assists for 37 points in the 2009-2010 season, although his minus-20 rating was somewhat alarming. This past season, Del Zotto recorded just 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points in 47 games with the Rangers. Although he was recalled by the Rangers after he was initially sent down in January, he still struggled mightily and was making most of the same mistakes that he did earlier in the season.
John Tortorella has talked a lot about Del Zotto having a good kind of cockiness and how Torts thinks Del Zotto's early success during his rookie year may have gotten to his head. There's no doubt that Del Zotto's confidence took a major hit this past season, though, as his play dipped dramatically and he was making some terrible mistakes in all three zones of the ice that he simply didn't do his rookie year. He also seemed unsure of himself whenever he had the puck on his stick and eventually had his Power Play time cut because the shot from his rookie season just wasn't there. Del Zotto, seemingly like every other Ranger on the Power Play, was passing up shooting the puck and was constantly getting burned in the defensive zone.
As bad as last season was for Del Zotto, it could wind up making him mentally tougher in the long run. Now that he's seen he won't just be handed a roster spot he knows he'll have to come into training camp looking to prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the NHL. It sounds like Del Zotto will be given a chance at winning a spot on the roster come opening day next season, but he can't afford to slip up. The Rangers have a ton of young talent on the blueline that they feel can contribute to the NHL in the near future, although Del Zotto easily offers the most from an offensive standpoint. Dylan McIlrath is said to have shown sparks of an offensive game within the last year, but he was mainly drafted for his size and toughness. Pavel Valentenko displayed a bomb of a shot from the point during preseason last year, but he has only 6 goals in 140 AHL games so far. Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh both became big contributors for the Rangers this past season, but they are both projected to be Marc Staal-like shutdown defensemen.
When the offseason starts, Rangers GM Glen Sather will have to decide if it is worth pursuing an offensive defenseman who can help on the Power Play. The acquisition of Bryan McCabe didn't do much to help the Power Play. In fact, Rangers beat writer Jesse Spector pointed out that the Power Play's 16.9% success rate didn't change at all with the addition of McCabe, so it's hard to imagine the Rangers bringing him back unless he signs for dirt cheap. There's a strong possibility that the one man who could have a strong influence on Del Zotto claiming a roster spot next year is actually Brad Richards. Richards ran the Power Play from the point in Dallas and if Sather can sign Richards he won't need to spend additional money on an offensive-minded defenseman in the offseason. That would likely mean that Del Zotto would go into camp competing for either one or two defenseman spots with Pavel Valentenko, Tomas Kundratek and Dylan McIlrath, who is considered to be an extreme long shot at making the team next year. Sather may bring back Matt Gilroy or add another third-pairing defenseman for cheap, but he wouldn't have the same need of looking for a Power Play quarterback if Richards signs with the Rangers.
At the very least, the Rangers need for Del Zotto to have a strong showing in camp so he can get his trade value back up. Del Zotto is still just 20 years old and we all saw the kind of player he can be during his rookie season. I still believe Del Zotto is an important piece of the Rangers future and considering how stingy Glen Sather has been with giving up prospects, I can't envision him giving up on Del Zotto after one awful year. It's important that Del Zotto takes this year as a learning experience when he looks back on it and uses it as motivation for him to improve his play. One of the things we've seen from Torts during his tenure in New York is that when a player falls out of favor with him, he really needs to work hard to regain Torts' trust. Del Zotto will be no exception, and how he responds next season is going to be crucial to his development as a player.