What If Erixon And Del Zotto Need More Time?

August 29, 2011, by

One of the biggest question marks heading into the new season for the Rangers has nothing to do with Brad Richards or Marian Gaborik.  It has to do with the bottom defense pairing. Right now, many assume that at least one of Michael Del Zotto or Tim Erixon will be ready and will make the team and won’t be a liability in any of the three zones.  The best case scenario is that they both succeed and make the team, making Steve Eminger a seventh defenseman.  But there is always the other scenario: that both need to hit the AHL a little before coming to the big club.

If that’s the case, then the only guarantee is that Steve Eminger will be on the bottom pairing.  After Eminger, the Rangers would have more question marks for the final defenseman than the Islanders do with their goaltending.  Pavel Valentenko –due to his great camp last year– and Brendan Bell –because he has already played in the NHL– would be the two favorites to serve as the final (or final two) defensemen.  However, nothing is given.  Remember when everyone guaranteed Ryan McDoangh a spot on opening night, only to be outplayed by his current defense partner?

But the candidate that not many will point to is the one that I am looking at to fill a void if these two aren’t ready: Tomas Kundratek.  He could be the most NHL ready of any of the Rangers AHL defensemen last year, with the exception of Wade Redden.  The 21 year old may not put up stellar numbers, but he has been a steady blue line presence for the Whale, who appears capable of handling NHL duties.

The first issue may be who makes the team, but the second issue is waivers, and it’s a pretty big issue.  Currently, none of the prospects and young players need to pass through waivers, but that will change 33 games into the season, if Del Zotto makes the team.  The minute Del Zotto plays his 33rd game this season, he will need to pass through waivers, which presents a whole other obstacle for the Rangers to overcome.  It also presents a very interesting scenario: If Del Zotto appears to be ready, but could benefit from more AHL time, do the Rangers send him down to avoid the waiver issue?

The question about the bottom pairing is one that may be floating under the radar because of Brad Richards and the hole(s) he fills, but it is a question that needs to be answered before the Rangers open the season in Sweden.  This may, in fact, be the biggest hole in the Rangers team this season.  With questions abound about not only the composition of the bottom pair, but waivers as well, Rangers brass may be forced to make a decision that will anger some fans.  But if John Tortorella’s track record tells us anything, it’s that he will give the kids every opportunity to play their way on to the roster.


  1. Jess says:

    Good catch Dave on the MDZ game count, while I know MDZ has been working out like a fiend the questions on him will not be truly answered until he plays in a game.

    I think the NYR might use that 33 game number to start MDZ in the AHL while keeping Erixon since it looks like they will carry 7 dmen

    • Dave says:

      It wouldn’t shock me, but then the question is who gets that other spot? My money would be on Kundratek, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they just keep Bell around if Kundratek would be the 7th guy.

      • Jess says:

        It is tough to get a good read on who is at the top of the pack for the 7 spot.

        You also have to include Valentenko as a possible but if he is going to be the 7th while waiting for Del Zotto then it has to be someone who they do not mind sitting for a couple of weeks at a time.

        The other option would be to rotate in and out via the Whale as other than Eminger everyone else is a lefty defender

  2. Tim-May says:

    I don’t think Valentenko is waiver eligible. Could be wrong.

    • Zen says:

      V-Tank can indeed be sent down without worrying about waivers. This was confirmed at some point, but I don’t have the link.

  3. Zen says:

    I have a feeling that we shouldn’t rule Bell out of this D race. Just the fact that he has that point shot on the PP is most likely not a coincidence. We will see soon.