The dog days of summer are almost done, and we are about six weeks away from preseason puck. When that preseason arrives, most of the attention will be given to Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and deservedly so. While that combination is likely to be the most critical aspect of the Rangers success this coming season, there is another situation that is going to be interesting to monitor. That situation is the competition between Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon for roster spots.
It is a given that the Rangers have five of the seven defensemen spots filled, with Steve Eminger likely filling as the seventh guy. The fifth and sixth spots are up for grabs, but it is clear that Del Zotto and Erixon are the front runners for those spots. Fans gave up on Del Zotto after a rough sophomore season, which still boggle me. The kid is going to come into camp hungry for a spot and with a desire to prove that he can play this game at the professional level.
What Del Zotto brings to the table is the ability to jump start the offense with outlet passes to spring rushes. His ability to make the pass is there, he just got too fancy last season. The smart pass is the best pass, and as long as Del Zotto realizes this, he will succeed. His defensive play was greatly improved, but it is still a weak point in his game. But maybe that is what Del Zotto is: an offensive minded player who will be able to produce points, but lag behind on the defensive end. We won’t know for sure yet, and the kid is still just 21 years old. There is a lot of time for him to develop.
Erixon is probably the more steady and reliable of the two kids. From everything I’ve read, he just seems to be confident with the puck and in his own end. He may not put up the points the way Del Zotto can, but he will be more solid in the zone. We ran a post about reasonable expectations for Erixon, so I don’t want to re-hash too much of that here.
Looking ahead, what if both meet and/or exceed expectations? Is it possible that one becomes trade bait when someone like Dylan McIlrath is ready for the NHL? What about Pavel Valentenko or Tomas Kundratek? The Rangers have an abundance of promising young defensemen, of which they can package together for a solid winger. I’m not saying they go ahead and do this, but the situation may present itself for the Rangers to part with one of their guys to better the team.
So if Del Zotto seems rejuvenated, and Erixon meets expectations, do the Rangers think long and hard about packaging one of them to solidify the forward core? I think it’s definitely a possibility. In Erixon, the Rangers have a bit of insurance in case Del Zotto stumbles again. Having both is great, and having them both succeed is even better. When the time comes to renew their contracts, it is going to be interesting to see how things unfold. If they both succeed, it is one of those “problems” you are more than happy to have.