Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 11/21/11

I'll start by saying that 21-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto has neither been as good as his rookie season nor as bad as his sophomore season so far this year. He's been somewhere in the middle through 17 games, and due to inconsistency from night to night, has also been very difficult to judge. At times  he's been serviceable and has shown signs of regaining his confidence when passing the puck, but at other times, like Saturday in Montreal for example, Michael has been downright brutal. The expectations for Del Zotto have been very high this season, which leads me to a question that I think many fans have on their minds; has DZ been overhyped?

I think you first have to consider that the Rangers have been short on defenseman with Marc Staal out of the lineup, so they've had no choice but to keep Del Zotto in the lineup. I've often wondered that if Staal were healthy from the start, would Del Zotto have even made the team? I think when you look at the preseason and the early going in the regular season this year, rookie Tim Erixon was arguably the better of the two, but as we know was sent back down to the AHL with coach Tortorella fearing that the constant losing here with the big club at the time would hurt his development. 

But, if during the preseason Del Zotto and Erixon had to fight for a roster spot since Staal was healthy, even before the losing began, would Erixon have made it over Del Zotto? I'll say this much; it's very possible that the situation could've played out that way. 

That, of course, is just a hypothetical scenario, though, and the focus here is on what has gone on, not what could've gone on. And what has gone on hasn't been very pretty for several reasons. Now I've never been able to put a finger on what exactly disrupted Michael's game between his rookie and sophomore seasons, but something screwed with his basic fundamentals and transformed him into a different player - a worse player. For the most part, we've seen that worse player this season and it's been a lingering problem. 

Del Zotto is by far the most commonly beat defenseman on the team. Just look at Saturday's 4-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, as he was partly responsible for the first two goals against. On the first, he tried pinching in the neutral zone and was skated around by Erik Cole and just like that the Rangers were down 1-0. Later in the game, Del Zotto was beat by Brian Gionta, who then had time to pick a spot on Marty Biron from a sharp angle, and again, 2-0. Tortorella was then left with no other option but to switch up the pairings because Del Zotto simply couldn't handle the workload; more specifically the speed of the opposition. 

Del Zotto could also be one of the best passers on this team, but he could also be one of the worst, which is the case more often than not. He turns the puck over way too much for a defenseman, which is not saying much about his decision making since the defense normally has the most time and space to make passes. 

I've had plenty of patience with Del Zotto and have actually been a heavy supporter of his in the past. But the repeated errors that are costing his team goals are getting out of control. As I said, the Rangers don't really have much of an option but to play him right now, but he will need to watch himself once newly-signed Anton Stralman is ready to join the lineup or if the Rangers, at some point, decide to bring Tim Erixon back up towards the second half of the year as they did with Ryan McDonagh in 2010-11. 

A lot of fans have really been pulling for Del Zotto, and since he had such a great rookie year, whenever he begins to show the slightest signs of positive play, it’s blown out of proportion. I think in the end, Del Zotto has been overhyped and it’s led to expectations he simply cannot meet. The organization has worked hard with Michael, and has taken many different approaches in attempt to straighten his game out, but time after time he reverts back to his old, unacceptable ways. 

Look, I really like Del Zotto as a person and a teammate, but he's been a liability out there and one that I don't anticipate making any dramatic improvements any time soon. 

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