|Chris McGrath/Getty Images|
In a season where many different Rangers’ young players progressed in their development and impact at the NHL level, Michael Del Zotto had a different reaction during the 2010-11 season. After a strong rookie season in which he was named to the NHL All-Rookie team Del Zotto regressed in year two. The nine goals and 28 assists of the 2009-10 campaign raised expectations for the 20-year-old defender coming into the season and significantly intensified the frustration and scrutiny over his play.
All of the concerns for Del Zotto coming into the season revolved around his defensive shortcomings that plagued him during his first season in the NHL. While his defense was still shaky at times in terms of positioning, and reading the play there was overall improvement on that end of the ice. The problems were with his offensive and mental sides of the game.
Offensively he struggled, only contributing two goals and nine assists in his 47 games with the Rangers. One reason for the lack of goal scoring was a significant inability to hit the net with his shot. In those 47 games Del Zotto recorded 58 shots on goal, which compares to the 42 times he was recorded missing the net. For a player of Del Zotto’s skill both his number of attempts and successful attempts on goal are discouraging. The number of attempts delves into his reluctance to shoot the puck in many situations where he had lanes, but lacked the confidence in his shot. Instead of firing the shot, he would often dump the puck around the boards for yet another cycle play by the forwards.
The mental side of the game struggles manifested themselves in multiple ways. The repetition of the same mistakes caused consternation and frustration among all involved because it led to wonders if he was really learning from his mistakes. The biggest source of his mistakes would be from being overaggressive with the puck. During his rookie season, part of what made Del Zotto so exciting were the stretch passes he would use to spring forwards like Marian Gaborik. This season those were misfiring on a consistent basis and more likely to come back at the Rangers with a chance for the opposition. Instead of adjusting to that reality and making the short, simple pass to get out of his end, Del Zotto would keep firing the long pass. The other major mistake which harmed him significantly defensively would be the over handling of the puck in his own end which led to turnovers in scoring areas.
The regression within his game got to the point where he was a healthy scratch for multiple games and sent to the AHL for multiple stints with the Connecticut Whale to both work on his game and build his confidence back up. During his time with the Whale he showed both the flashes of offense he had during his rookie campaign, but also the inconsistency that marred year two. During his final stint with the Whale, Del Zotto would cap his frustrating year with a broken finger that ended his campaign and recently he also had sports hernia surgery that will have him rehabbing for the next month.
Having a regression as a 20-year-old is certainly not unheard of and does not mean that Del Zotto’s days as a key piece to the future of this organization are over by any means. What it means is that a young player hit some bumps in his development and now the Rangers’ and Del Zotto will find out the type of player and person they are dealing with in how he responds and rebounds from the struggles. Many very good players have had sophomore slumps in their careers and now it is up to Del Zotto to make sure that is all the 2010-11 season was and not a prelude to the rest of his career.