When Michael Del Zotto entered the New York Rangers scene in 2009, he entered with a vengeance. Del Zotto had 12 points (4-8-12) in the first month of the season, of which eight of those points (3-5-8) came with the man advantage. Finally, the Rangers had a successor to Brian Leetch. Tom Poti tried and failed, Michal Rozsival tried and failed, and countless others tried and failed. Del Zotto, in October of 2009, was the Rangers “savior” to the anemic powerplay.
But then something else happened, Del Zotto scored 28 points throughout the rest of the season, of which 11 came in the final six weeks of the year. Between October and March, he only put up 17 points, and played abysmal defensive hockey. His -20 rating illustrated his defensive struggles to the point that he spent some time in February of 2010 in the AHL.
His stuggles continued in the 2010-2011 season, and Del Zotto was shipped to the AHL for the rest of the year in February, finishing with just 11 points in 47 games before his demotion. His play was atrocious, and he looked lost on the ice. The homerun passes that worked in Juniors no longer worked at the NHL level. He was making poor decisions with the puck, and seemed to have lost all confidence.
Now we look at Del Zotto and we see a defenseman renewed. He may not be lighting the world on fire on the scoreboard, but he is putting up respectable numbers (2-4-6 thus far, on pace for 27 points), and he is playing good defense, which is something that may be overlooked. Since being paired with Mike Sauer, Del Zotto’s game has really taken off. He looks better all around the ice, and it is likely because he has a safety net in the monster that is Sauer.
Where the numbers really show a difference is at even strength, where Del Zotto needed to work on his game. Del Zotto’s QUALCOMP is fourth on the team at -.106, which is where you expect him to be (Sauer, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh are ahead of him). His Relative Corsi of 7.8 shows that when he is on the ice, his teammates maintain possession of the puck, resulting in more shots at the opponents net than his own. He starts 47.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone, but finishes 50.0% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Those zone start/finish percentages illustrate that although he is getting a good portion of his shifts to start in the offensive zone, he is finishing more of his shifts there than starting.
What does all this mean? It shows that when Del Zotto is out on the ice, the Rangers maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone, and get shots directed at the opponent’s net. When starting in the defensive zone, the Rangers (with Del Zotto on the ice) are able to gain possession of the puck, and move it out of the zone and generate chances until the shift ends, generally in the offensive zone.
This all together shows progress, and a big step forward in regards to progress as well. There are still many on the Trade Del Zotto bandwagon (sigh), and many others who just don’t think he’s worth it (he’s 22, simma down). But in the grand scheme of things, progression is what is most important. Del Zotto has shown progression. What more do you want from him?