X Factors For 2010: Michael Del Zotto Edition

Today we will continue with out next edition of "X Factors For 2010." We have already covered Sean Aver and his aggressive role on the team and we have also looked into Martin Biron's role as a backup goaltender. Today we look at Michael Del Zotto.

Del Zotto, who jumped right from the OHL to the New York Rangers as a 19-year-old last year, was immediately thrust into a primary role on the team. John Tortorella -- who was wildly impressed with Del Zotto's performance in camp -- had him quarterbacking the power play from game one. Del Zotto (did I mention he's only 19?) flourished in the role as a rookie, scoring 9 goals and adding 28 assists for 37 points.

Of those 37 points, 22 of them were scored on the power play; with Del Zotto notching 4 goals and 18 assists on the man advantage. To put that into perspective Dan Girardi and Michal Rozsival both had 1 goal and 3 assists on the power play. Matt Gilroy notched 3 assists and Wade Redden put up 1 assist with the man advantage. Marc Staal was the only defenseman not to record a point on the man advantage this year.

To prove Del Zotto’s worth even more let’s look at the entire team’s power play points. Marian Gaborik lead the team in power play points with 26 (14 goals and 12 assists), big surprise right? What may actually surprise you is that Del Zotto was second on the team in power play points with his 22. Only Ryan Callahan (20 points) and Vaclav Prospal (19 points) were anywhere near Del Zotto and Gaborik. Brandon Dubinsky was the only other Ranger with double figure power play points (he had 10) on the season.

So you can probably see why Del Zotto is an X factor. In his rookie year -- granted it was on an offensively starved team -- he was second on the team in power play scoring. In total season stats his 37 points was enough to tie for 4th on the team with Ryan Callahan -- I’m not counting Olli Jokinen here because he spent most of his time with the Calgary Flames.

The Rangers are probably expecting (as they should) an increase in his point production this year. Although he went through a goal-scoring slump in the middle of the season, his offensive play picked up again toward the end of the year. If Tortorella gives Del Zotto the same amount of power play time he did last year -- and there’s no reason to assume that he wont -- his numbers should increase.

It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that Del Zotto could reach 50 points this year (he has the talent) but I don’t know how likely it will be. Having Alexander Frolov should help in this department quit a bit. Frolov and Gaborik on the same power play unit can spell disaster for other teams, especially if Del Zotto (who has some amazing vision) is given some space.

The other side of Del Zotto being an X factor is his defense. Obviously critics of Del Zotto will point to his -20 on the season as being the main reason why he isn’t a top defenseman, but I think that argument is a bit overblown. Del Zotto played with Rozsival for most of the season, and we all know that Rozsival didn’t start playing good hockey until the tail end of the season (last 20 games or so).

Del Zotto was thrown into a vital role for the team, averaging 19 minutes a night. It wasn’t a secret that he was gassed by the Olympic Break, and that he tired significantly towards the end of the season. That helped contribute to his bad plus minus ranking. But again, and I can’t stress this enough, that was expected for a 19-year-old. One of the biggest adjustments between guys who go from the OHL and the AHL (something that Evgeny Grachev went through last year) is getting used to playing 82 games in the regular season, and then maybe even more games if their team makes the playoffs.

It works the same way in the NHL, except you’re playing again top end talent. So when you get tired and make a mistake the likelihood of you "paying for it" increases dramatically. This is where I truly believe that we will see the most increase in Del Zotto’s overall play.

The other aspect that Del Zotto brings to the table is his heavy hitting. He proved throughout the season that he is a consistent hard hitter, and multiple times this year he laid some serious lumber on guys. I have embedded an MSG video for you to all view and enjoy, it’s pretty cool.

Del Zotto also brings some toughness to the table. He was one of the few defenseman to protect Henrik Lundqvist from the various amounts of liberties that other teams took against him. Check out this video of Del Zotto taking care of Ilya Kovalchuk after he took an extra smack at Lundqvist.

In the end there are a ton of different aspects that Del Zotto brings to the table. Where he improves and where he levels will be a good indication of the type of player that he is evolving into. But take this season with a grain of salt as well because even though it will be his second NHL season he will be 20-years-old when the season is over. He's still going to be raw and developing.

So what do you all think? The floor is yours.