New York Rangers Analysis: Can Del Zotto Bounce Back This Season?

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. My humble abode got the crap kicked out of it by Hurricane Irene, but we're up and running now after a night at my girlfriend's sister's house. Hope all of you made out OK as well.

Anyway, onto what is sure to be a continuing hot-topic discussion as the season draws closer: Expectations for Michael Del Zotto.

After an impressive rookie season offensively for Del Zotto, in which he scored nine goals and 37 points in 80 games, many were expecting big things from the young puck moving defenseman. But after just a few games last season, it became evident that something wasn't right with Del Zotto's game. He was telegraphing his breakout passes, his offense was sagging and he was our of position far too often on opposing goals.

The New York Rangers' brass saw the signs, and made the right decision to send Del Zotto down to the AHL to season his game and get his confidence back. I was lucky enough to get credentialed to a few Connecticut Whale games through my real job, and got to see him play on a few separate occasions. His game looked a little more refined at the AHL level, but he still seemed like he was trying to do too much on every shift. Still, it was a step up from what we saw during the season.

What does this mean for next season? Join me after the jump to find out.

Obviously most of this hinges on wether or not Del Zotto cracks the roster, but I can't see any way he doesn't, unless he has an absolutely dismal performance in camp. Remember that Del Zotto is in the final year of his entry level contract. That means the Rangers have just one more season to get a look at him before he becomes an RFA; that will surely factor into the equation during camp.

So assuming he makes the team, what can we expect from Del Zotto this upcoming season?

Let's start with his time in the AHL last year.

Del Zotto wasn't sent down because of a lack of goals and assists, he was sent down because his defensive game needed some fine tuning and he lost confidence in his game. There were offensive parts of his game that needed work however, and from what I saw from press row he was focusing on them.

In the games I went to he wasn't tossing the deep breakout passes as frequently, he moved the puck out of the defensive zone with confidence and made smart decisions with it once he hit the red line. He was quick to get back when he pinched, and his positioning seemed a lot better as well.

One of the things I did notice was some hesitation when it came to shooting from the point, at both even strength and on the power play. I only remember him taking three shots form the point in the games I covered. One hit the post, one missed the net and the final shot was saved by a miraculous diving effort by the goalie.

But the main thing I saw from Del Zotto was rejuvenated confidence. He was in bright spirits in the locker room, understood why he was sent down in the first plave and made a point to fix his game.

Back to next year's expectations, I would caution those expecting a 40-point year. Del Zotto will probably end up on the third pairing, and should see some power play time (I'm expecting Tim Erixon to see some as well); but his focus will most likely be on shoring up his defense.

One of the things that opened so many eyes when it came to Del Zotto's game in the OHL was his ability to create offense out of nothing, even if he was from behind his own net. Del Zotto always knew where his breakout forwards were, and he was skilled enough to get the puck to them. It made him successful his rookie season, but once other teams started catching on they picked him apart.

That doesn't mean Del Zotto doesn't have the skills to do that in the NHL, it just means it takes a little more work. And for the upcoming season at least, that's not going to be a focus. If Del Zotto plays a solid defensive game, I don't think anyone can complain about the offensive figures he puts up this season. Defense first, offense second; we already saw what happens when it goes the other way around.

If you wanted to be conservative, you might expect around 20 points from him this year. If you wanted to be optimistic, you would expect him to hit or exceed his rookie-season mark of 37. But again, if his defensive game is improving the offensive figures can be disregarded if they end up being low. And while that might not be what you want to see from Del Zotto a few years down the road, it could be a necessary stepping stone early in his career.

To his credit, Del Zotto recently removed himself from Twitter to focus on making the team, and even in the AHL he made it very clear that he wants to do nothing but help the New York Rangers. I was surprised at how good his attitude was while he was down in the minors, it spoke volumes of what he could become one day.

But until we actually see him on the ice, this is nothing but speculation. Regardless, what are you expecting from Del Zotto this season?