NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 11: Michael Grier #25 of the Buffalo Sabres holds up Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 11 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers had a huge question mark on their hands this previous offseason. The team had to make a decision on whether or not to have defenseman Michael Del Zotto start the year in Connecticut, start the year with the Rangers or look into trading him.
In the end, the Rangers elected to keep him with the big club -- a decision that had just as much to do with Del Zotto being on the final year of his ELC as it did with the Rangers needing bodies on their blue line. For John Tortorella, the move couldn't have worked out any better.
Del Zotto seems poised for a career year, already matching his career-high 28 assists and just sitting two goals shy of the nine he scored his rookie year. Del Zotto, who didn't play a full NHL season last year, is now an integral part of the Rangers' core.
Join me after the jump for more.Thus far this season Tortorella had used Del Zotto in just about every situation possible, and Del Zotto has earned each and every one of this minutes. He has averaged nearly 23 minutes a night and has played on both the power play and the penalty kill consistently this season. His involvement on the penalty kill has a lot to do with his reformed defensive game, which has been one of the biggest steps in his development.
And while the defense is nice to see, and vital for the team's success, it's his offense that has gotten him a lot of attention. Del Zotto -- who has been working with Brad Richards all year -- has become a lethal presence on the power play. And what's more important is that Del Zotto is understanding the flow of the game better.
In his rookie season Del Zotto was relying on long outlet passes to spring forwards (mainly Marian Gaborik) on breakaways. His sophomore year, opposing defenses read his outlet passes easily and picked them off more often than not. That lead to countless turnovers and was one of the main reasons why Del Zotto was sent down to the AHL to season his game last year.
This year is a completely different story. Del Zotto still uses his outlet passes, but when he does he generally looks off the opposing team's defense, or he simply carries the puck himself. On the power play he's patient, isn't afraid to shoot the puck and always seems to go to the right areas of the ice to create space for himself to work. The results have been there all year, and whatever he has been doing (I give Richards a ton of credit for Del Zotto's offensive resurgence) has been working.
It has been a huge season for Del Zotto this year, although there's still more to come. And for the Rangers, that's nothing but good news.