Michael Del Zotto was the Rangers first round pick (20th overall) in the 2008 NHL draft. Before being drafted in 2008, the 18-year-old defensemen was coming off two great seasons in Canadian Junior Hockey, playing with the Oshawa Generals. In his two seasons there, he put up 26-94-120 with 160 PIMS and a +6 in 128 games during the regular season. In the post-season, he put up 5-12-20 with 52 PIMS and a -4 in 24 games over two seasons.
Del Zotto began the 2008-2009 campaign with the Oshawa Generals, putting up 7-26-33 with 48 PIMS and a -12 in 34 games, before getting traded (with John Taveras) to the London Knights, where he has been putting up even better numbers, if that’s even possible. In 28 regular season games with the Knights, Del Zotto put up 6-24-30 and 30 PIMS and a +9. As of this post, he has played two games in the playoffs this year, putting up 5 assists and a +1.
The six-foot, 210-pound Stouffville, Ontario native can only be categorized as a top talent offensive defensemen. Del Zotto saw his stock price drop before the 2008 draft, with questions about whether his numbers were inflated, having played the majority of his junior career with John Taveras (consensus #1 pick of the 2009 draft), and Steve Stamkos (#1 pick of 2008) before him. Currently ranked the #2 prospect in the entire Rangers organization, Del Zotto has upside that goes beyond playing with two #1 picks. Aside from his numbers, Del Zotto has an incredible vision on the ice, and makes a very crisp first pass. He has shown that he is capable of joining the rush as a trailer, or even leading rushes himself as the puck carrier. He is incredibly poised as a puck carrier, and never seems to panic with the biscuit. His time spent as a forward in his earlier years gave him soft hands and a lethal shot to go with his superior puck carrying abilities.
As with most young, still developing offensive defensmen, Del Zotto has to be better in his own end, particularly in recognizing when it is the proper time to jump in on the rush. He has a habit of jumping in, or trying to create his own rush, at inopportune times, and that leads to scoring chances for opponents. He also has an issue containing attacking forwards, ie: using his body to keep them to the outside on the rush and push them off the puck.
As eluded to above, Del Zotto also needs to learn how to position his body better. This mostly stems from Del Zotto’s ability to deliver a big hit, as he is unafraid to use his body in this sense. The concern here is that he tends to take himself out of the play attempting to deliver a big hit, instead of just using superior positioning to muscle the rusher off the puck.
Both of these concerns are common for teenage defensemen, and Del Zotto has shown the poise, determination, and competitiveness to overcome these deficencies. It is also worth noting that these question-marks are linked. As Del Zotto learns how to contain attacking forwards, the use of his body to deter these oncoming forwards will mature.
Del Zotto, if he reaches his full potential, can be a #1 defensemen/power play quarterback. More conservatively, Del Zotto can pan out to be a top-four defensemen, with the ability to quarterback the powerplay. With the glut of Ranger defensemen, both signed and in the system, there is reason to rush Del Zotto through the system. He needs more seasoning to sharpen his defensive skills and physical play before being an effective NHL defensemen. It is highly unlikely that he will play the 2009-2010 season professionally, so expect to see him with London for one more season before jumping to Hartford for a season or two.
For now, you can salivate while thinking of the possibilities of having a top-four of Del Zotto-Staal-Sanguinetti-Girardi and the potential it brings.
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