On Saturday night Michael Del Zotto took another step towards staying with the Rangers past the nine game limit that separates players who have junior eligibility from those who do not. Taking a cross ice feed from Christopher Higgins and using a timely (and perfect) screen from Ryan Callahan, Del Zotto rifled a low hard shot that eluded Pascal Leclaire and hit the back of the cage for his first NHL goal. The Garden went crazy, his mother cried.
Questions have surrounded-and continue to surround-this new-look New York Rangers defense. With two rookies in Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy and questions about the level of play from both Wade Redden and Michael Rozsival; it makes sense that Rangers fans are keeping a close eye on the blue line corps. But no one on this blue line faces more questions-and in the end more uncertainty-than Del Zotto.
The Ontario native has seven games left to prove to the New York Rangers brass that he is worth the risk of keeping in the NHL. If the Rangers chose to keep him past the nine game limit then Del Zotto loses junior eligibility and has to stay with the big club for the next two years--since he would be too young to play in the AHL. So is he truly worth the risk?
Check after the jump for more analysis on Del Zotto!
Let's forget the goal for a moment.
Yesterday was a great indication of just how much offensive skill this kid truly has. If you watched him on the power play it was beautiful to see him skating low into the slot, taking passes and ripping shots. Any time that Del Zotto had a lane he would take the shot, if he didn't have the lane he would pass the puck it was as simple as that there was no hesitation.
When was the last time there was a defenseman that did that? When was the last time the Rangers had a legitimate threat to shoot the puck from the blueline? A defenseman who has no problem shooting the puck when he has a lane, who actually wants to join the offensive rush and take the shot? It was a long time ago.
Now let's also take the time to realize that he has played in two games in this very young season. Yes, Del Zotto has played well in both of them, and if he plays the same way he has been for the rest of the year we should see some very special things. But that is a long way's away. And while he shows that he has no problem being part of the offensive spectrum his defense will be viewed very carefully by the Rangers coaching staff.
Basically, the next seven games will be very important for the highly touted 19 year-old defenseman; but the decision has probably already been made. The spot is Del Zotto's to lose, as of right now he is--and will be--a New York Ranger for a long time. Put yourself in the New York Rangers shoes, who would you replace Del Zotto with right now?
Alexei Semenov's wife nixed his deal with the Rangers. Bobby Sanguinetti, Corey Potter and Mike Sauer were all analyzed through the pre-season and the Rangers brass deemed that Del Zotto earned a spot over them. And at the end of the day with Del Zotto playing the way he is, his upside far outweighs the questions that revolve around his lack of experience.
He has not made any glaring mistakes yet, but he will, and when he does I urge you all to take it as the necessary evil for starting a 19 year-old on defense--which is arguably the most difficult position for a rookie to acclimate to in the NHL. It is the price of having a potential super-star in the making, and it answers Ranger fans--seemingly never ending--call for youth. This kid will be great, we as Ranger fans just have to be patient. But there is no need to be patient to see him as a New York Ranger, he already has that in the bag.