It all started with an innocent clearing of the zone by Columbus. The puck was barely out of the zone by the Columbus bench, and Michael Del Zotto, just 19 years old, picked up the loose puck. Columbus then made a mistake, half the team went for a line change as Del Zotto back skated with the puck, and Del Zotto countered and made them pay.
He carried the puck in the zone, deked out one defender, and used the other as a screen, ripping a shot from the high slot passed the outstretched blocker of goaltender Steve Mason, and the Rangers had a 3-2 lead. Brian Leetch was in the house, and it seems like Del Zotto put on that show just for him.
Ranger fans haven’t seen a defenseman do something like that since, well, Leetch. Del Zotto, in his first 23 games, has shown a poise that most veterans don’t show. As Stas (where art thou?) has seen, I have been raving about this kid since he was drafted (pre-BSB). But even I and my completely biased hyping up of prospects couldn’t have imagined him being this good this early. And how about that ridiculous pass to Ryan Callahan in the first? It was so good that even Cally was stunned.
The Del Zotto effect is seen on the powerplay as well. While Ales Kotalik and his booming shot is getting most of the credit, it’s Del Zotto’s poise with the puck and crisp passing that is making everything click. The last effective powerplay quarterback the Rangers had was, of course, Leetch.
Perhaps the most underrated portion of his game is his defensive abilities. This was something he was doubted on during his days in the OHL. But Del Zotto, while making rookie mistakes, has been a steady defender in his own zone. This was highlighed by those two beautiful plays in the third period to keep the 7-3 (at the time) lead.
We are watching a very special hockey player, who hopefully will become a top-five defenseman in the league as he matures. While it is premature to call him the next Leetch, the comparisons are going to be made for years to come.