The question at hand is a lot less daunting than it was during last season when the young defenseman stumbled through his second season. It’s less daunting now thanks to the acquisition of two way prospect Tim Erixon, however the question is still a valid one; how would the Rangers react if Del Zotto can’t find his game again?
Del Zotto having another bad year would likely bottom out his trade value and leave the Rangers with little organisational (pure) offense from the blue line as Erixon is seen as a two way presence whereas Del Zotto is the more dynamic, offensive type. Would another bad year mean the end of MDZ’s tenure with the Rangers? We saw what happened to Bobby Sanguinetti once it was clear to management that he’d never make it as a Ranger. Now granted, the situations are pretty different as Del Zotto has already proven he has what it takes to succeed at the NHL level but it can’t be denied that he’d be on shaky ground, to an extent.
Del Zotto’s future seems closely entwined with Tim Erixon’s. Considered NHL ready, if Erixon comes into camp and blows everyone away, coupled with anything less than his own impressive camp, Del Zotto will almost certainly begin the year in the AHL and it could be a long way back. Again, with an impressive camp from Erixon you can easily imagine the Rangers being a lot more open to trading the young Canadian defenseman while they still can.
Assuming Del Zotto doesn’t start well (for the record I’d be patient with him as his upside is very impressive) and the Rangers do indeed look to other players ahead of MDZ, would that impact the Rangers draft tendencies next summer? As mentioned, there is very little offensive help on the blue line in the system and with several Rangers forwards progressing nicely it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rangers go down the defenseman draft route once again.
All of a sudden a poor MDZ exposes a few holes in the system. All of a sudden, next summer the Rangers may have a few big holes to plug. The team is still in need of drafting a goalie or two as the organisational depth is minimal while suddenly the Rangers need to find offense from the back. Of course, again assuming the worst, the Rangers have depth at the NHL (and NHL ready) level and could easily deal a player such as Dan Girardi or a young forward for help instead of going the draft route, but of course dealing players away for help is never ideal.
Of course there’s another trail of thought. An impressive Erixon from the get-go may allow the Rangers to show (brave?) patience with Del Zotto and let him work through his issues with an entire season in the AHL. There’s no reason why Del Zotto couldn’t play a full year in the A and then make it back to the NHL. Plenty of elite defensemen have spent significant time learning and refining their games in the second tier (think Duncan Keith for starters), the only difference would be that Del Zotto got to the NHL via the NHL.
With plenty of forwards progressing nicely as well as rugged D-men such as Dylan McIlrath and Pavel Valentenko on deck, the Rangers may be posed with an interesting decision or two over the next 12 months with regards to their personnel decisions. Here’s hoping Del Zotto takes one decision out of the management’s hands.