When the Rangers drafted Michael Del Zotto in the summer of 2008, they envisioned the first round pick quarterbacking their power play for the next decade, giving them an offensive talent similar to Brian Leetch. What they didn’t expect was for the defenseman’s young career to be in danger before it even gets truly started.
Del Zotto’s rookie campaign gave Rangers’ fans something to hope for. As the youngest defenseman ever (19) to start for the Rangers on Opening Night, Del Zotto scored 12 points in his first 14 games, coming out of nowhere to impress all onlookers. His poise and confidence on the power play gave coach Tortorella a dangerous weapon from the backline.
However, the brash rookie played in 80 of 82 games in his first season. That’s not the ideal situation for a young defenseman, which typically take longer to develop than forwards.
Ideally, Tortorella wanted Del Zotto in juniors to develop his game last season, but due to the lack of options and how well he played in the preseason, Del Zotto played his way on to the team.
In his second year on Broadway, Del Zotto hasn’t been able to match his production or his confidence from a season ago. He’s making the same mistakes consistently – a classic mistake for inexperienced players.
His signature “home run” pass out of his own end is not clicking like it was last season. His shot routinely misses the net. His lack of physical play is hampering his defensive positioning. His giveaways have cost the Rangers points, some in late-game situations.
The mismanagement, however, has come from the coaching staff. Despite turning his team into a hard-working, tenacious fore-checking unit this season, Tortorella has sent mixed messages to what Del Zotto’s role is on the team and what he needs to do to continue to develop.
When the Rangers initially sent down Del Zotto to Connecticut Jan. 3rd, it was to work on those exact things. He was only recalled due to an injury to Dan Girardi and not because Tortorella liked where his game had progressed. When Girardi returned from injury, Del Zotto surprisingly wasn’t sent back down and the problems began to escalate.
Del Zotto’s 2nd stint on the team has shown his confidence regress even further to the point where the coaching staff is hesitant to play him in all situations.
After a turnover that led to a penalty down in Atlanta last Friday, Del Zotto was seen on the bench being scolded by Tortorella and the look on Del Zotto’s face said it all; crippling fear of making a mistake and the consequences of them.
With other defenseman like Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy not playing any better and the team without any veteran options, the Rangers have hamstrung themselves; they have no alternative but to play Del Zotto.
The best course of action for the Rangers is to find a veteran defenseman between now and the trade deadline (Feb 28th). Players like Bryan McCabe Chris Phillips and Tomas Kaberle will command too much in a trade. Cheap, low-key defensemen like Jim Vandermeer (EDM), Hal Gill (MTL), or Steve Staois (CGY) should be brought in so Del Zotto can be sent down to Connecticut. There, he’ll be able to play 25-26 minutes a night and play in all situations to hopefully restore the confidence back in his game.
Whatever the decision the Rangers make on Del Zotto needs to be made quickly and must be carried out – it’s only for his benefit. If Del Zotto isn’t straightened out soon, he could very well turn into another Rangers 1st-round bust.