Saturday, November 5, 2011

Del Zotto Back To Where Rangers Need Him To Be

Michael Del Zotto had an extremely promising rookie season during the 2009-10 season recording nine goals and 28 assists as a 19-year-old.  With that display the expectations for the New York Rangers defender were sky high going into his sophomore season.  Instead Del Zotto has his play deteriorate to the point that he was healthy scratched at the NHL level and demoted to the AHL multiple times.  It was unclear what to expect from Del Zotto for this season because of how badly his confidence deteriorated last year, but the Rangers have to be pleasantly surprised with what they are seeing thus far.

Many fans will not let Del Zotto get over last season, but it is time to move on and judge him on what he is doing this year.  The fact is Del Zotto is doing exactly what the Rangers want and need for him to do thus far.  In 11 games thus far this year he has one goal, three assists and is a plus seven.  More important than the numbers is the level of confidence that Del Zotto is displaying; especially in the offensive zone.  The surprise of last season was not that he was still struggling to make the right plays defensively, but that he seemingly forgot how to be effective offensively.  Del Zotto is never going to be a great defensive defender and he has had his share of brain cramps already this season, but the Rangers need his offense from the blue line and are willing to deal with defensive deficiencies to get it. 

Del Zotto is the perfect example of how even in professional athletes confidence is tricky.  When he came up two years ago he played with a confidence that bordered on arrogance.  Rumors of him coming to camp out of shape last season and/or not putting in the necessary work over the summer would be the downside and manifestation of confidence going too far.  Last season that confidence vanished and left wearing Del Zotto's jersey was a 20-year-old defender that was terrified to do anything because he was afraid to make a mistake.  Gone were the instincts that he had played with his whole life and in their place was a player thinking way too much on the ice.  With some early season success you see the confidence and even swagger Del Zotto needs returning to his game.

The dedication that Del Zotto put in over the summer to erasing last year and getting back to where he was before is evident on the ice.  Helping him in that process right now are two key lineup changes from last season.  Due to the injury to Marc Staal, Del Zotto finds himself paired with Michael Sauer.  Sauer’s attention to detail in his own end and reliability on the ice have given Del Zotto someone to watch and learn from across from him along with more comfort to press the game offensively.  Pairing with Sauer also gets Del Zotto more ice time to earn the trust of the coaching staff given how much they trust Sauer already.

On the power play the signing of Brad Richards took an immense amount of pressure off Del Zotto in terms of being the solution to the long standing hole as power play quarterback.  By removing that pressure from his shoulders and playing him with Richards on the point, Del Zotto has shown the kind of patience and vision that you want from a player who could one day that mantle. 

For Del Zotto the judgment of his play will be in how he is helping to generate offense more than his work in his own end.  He is still prone to the huge gaffe that needs to be bailed out by Sauer or the netminder, but his defensive work is better than it was before and that needs to be recognized by fans who cannot get over his atrocious play last year.  He is still a work in progress, but for the first 11 games this season Del Zotto has gotten back on track for where New York needs him to be.  The more his confidence grows the more impactful he will become on the offensive end and that is a hidden addition to the Rangers this season.