The 2010-11 season was a nightmare for Michael Del Zotto as he not only failed to build on a promising rookie campaign with the New York Rangers, but he regressed to the point that he was benched and eventually demoted to the AHL. To make matters worse for the young defenseman, following his final demotion to Hartford he was injured and missed the end of the season. The bad news continued as Del Zotto had sports hernia surgery in May and left many wondering what version of Del Zotto would arrive at Rangers training camp this month.
Reports from training camp thus far have painted a picture of focused and in shape Del Zotto who is looking to reclaim his spot on the backline for New York. Entering camp he was expected to battle with rookie Tim Erixon, veteran Steve Eminger amongst others to see who would fill the Rangers final two defensive spots. With the North American part of training camp set to wrap up tonight with the Rangers third preseason game it appears that Del Zotto is in control of his own fate. This week the Rangers have done work in practice using what is being taken as their top group and in each instance Del Zotto has found himself, along with Steve Eminger, on the Rangers third defensive pair.
His place, presumably within the top six, is not guaranteed to him for opening night, but it is always easier to keep a job than steal one away. In the first two preseason games Del Zotto has had his moments of improved play, but still far too many moments of forced passed, broken coverages and just failing to play the simple hockey the coaching staff asked him to work on doing.
There was a five minute stretch in the third period against the Devils Friday night where Del Zotto seemed to have something click for him. He was rushing the puck through the neutral zone, making short/smart passes to his teammates and even saved a scoring chance against with a beautiful diving defensive play. It was a flash of the tremendous skill that Del Zotto has and while he has not shown it consistently in the first two preseason games, one must presume that he is showing it in camp to be inside the top six right now. It also helps that none of the other defenders in the competition have really had standout performances to this point in preseason.
Regardless, the reality is Del Zotto has learned that nothing is going to be handed to him and has come to camp with the attitude that he wants his spot back. To this point he appears to have it and now it is up to him to not let anyone else snatch it away.