Michael Del Zotto is ninth in the entire NHL in plus/minus. While many people don’t place much stock in the statistic (after all Marek Malik did lead the league in plus/minus one season) it does provide some indication how the young blue liner has begun to turn his game back around this season.
Del Zotto could have been forgiven for stalling in recent times when Mike Sauer was lost to injury and even before, as the Rangers blue line has had to accommodate journeymen pros such as Woywitka, Eminger and now Anton Stralman. However Del Zotto has continued to grow in confidence, more often than not make the smart play and above all begin to show some defensive consistency.
The dominant 6-1 victory over the Panthers on Sunday included a +4 evening from Del Zotto. Del Zotto impressed in the victory showing poise as he made smart plays in his own zone while he displayed a level of patience on the puck that wasn’t there even when he burst in to the league as a rookie. In short, Del Zotto is growing up.
What’s worth noting is that the extra emphasis and effort Del Zotto is putting in to his defensive game isn’t sacrificing his offensive instincts. Yes, the spectacular passes and rushes are less frequent but with solid play in his own zone and better decision making, the foundations are being set for the offense to be more impactful and less ad hoc. Simply put, Del Zotto is creating offense and being part of the offense in different ways than he was before.
The young blueliner is on course for 42 points which would eclipse his rookie efforts. The difference is that the rookie was a liability, this version is not. Del Zotto is playing the game more physically as evidenced by the 185 hits he is on course for this season. There’s not much the defenseman isn’t doing better this time around. With Sauer and Staal to return Del Zotto would likely slide down to the third pair in the short term but all that does is make the Rangers more dangerous.
If the Rangers can continue to nurture Del Zotto they could have the makings of an excellent offensive defenseman but one that may have an unexpected defensive ability. For sure, he’s far from a finished article and a quarter of a season’s solid play is not enough to declare Del Zotto a sure fire success but credit also has to be given with regard to how he has bounced back from a truly dreadful second year. All the failure, injuries, media criticism and demotion could have ruined him mentally but Del Zotto has shown a resolve to get back to the Rangers and make a positive impact.
What next? Del Zotto needs to work on his shot, and shot selection. It may be his ability to be a scoring threat himself that takes him to the next level. If penalty kills and opposing goaltenders don’t respect his shot and his ability to score then he may find his ceiling capped. If Del Zotto can become more accurate with his shot the Rangers could have a lethal power play; it’s not only Del Zotto personally that stands to benefit from his development.