Would it be so bad if the young, talented defenceman played a few games in the AHL? I’ve beaten this drum before but it’s always worth noting that a guy like Duncan Keith played his trade in the minors for two full seasons before becoming the elite defenceman that he is today. A lot appears to rest on Del Zotto’s attitude and how he handles his current predicament. Even at his young age he’s the most offensively gifted rearguard that the Rangers have but something is amiss. His offensive game has dried up and his decision making is inconsistent. What Del Zotto needs is to somehow getting his confidence up and getting back to the period where he wasn’t afraid to make plays and lead the rush. This is where the Connecticut Whale comes in.
If this discussion was taking place at the start of the year it would have been unwise to have demoted MDZ because of the mire that the Whale found themselves in. However, right now the Whale are playing good hockey, scoring goals and most importantly, having success. What Del Zotto needs to do is play significant minutes without worrying about the effect of every play he makes. He needs to be in an environment where he is allowed to make the occasional mistake and not worry about his spot in the line up. He also needs to embrace and roster move that make come his way. Should he end up in the minors he needs to accept the challenge that comes with demotion and look to get back up to NY as soon as possible. He must realise that being sent down isn’t necessarily punishment and certainly not the end but is about development. Del Zotto has rarely experienced adversity. He had a stellar junior career, was involved in a major trade as a junior and found immediate success in NY and became a fan favourite quickly. This tough period is a new experience for the skilled youngster but difficulties such as this are often as critical to a player (and person’s) development as the good times are; it’s about building character.
What the Rangers need to make sure they avoid is letting Del Zotto stay in the press box too long. If they do feel Gilroy is deserving of an extended stay in the team (and the college kid has done nothing to deserve being removed) then Del Zotto does need to be demoted. He needs to play, in fact playing a lot is critical in a young athlete’s career – it’s akin to a young child learning to walk. They try, fall over, keep trying and learn from their falls. This is what Del Zotto needs to do on the ice. He needs to play a lot of ice time regardless of league and location. Should the Rangers keep him in street clothes night in night out, they risk damaging a huge asset, perhaps permanently. Sather, Tortorella and Schoenfeld need to decide what to do sooner rather than later, for everyone’s benefit.
Del Zotto should think about other skilled, young blueliners that have recently played in the AHL but that have made their way to the NHL. They include John Carlson (of US WJC fame) and Kevin Shattenkirk (who is playing a key role for the Avalanche this year) while Alex Edler of the Canucks alternated between Vancouver and the AHL for two seasons before making himself a core part of a strong Canucks club. These players show that going to the AHL is far from a major stumbling block but more an opportunity. If Del Zotto is willing to embrace the (potential) challenge there’s nothing to say that he can’t come back to be a mainstay for the Rangers for a long time to come; after all, the PP needs a successful Del Zotto.