Michael Del Zotto has been the target of a lot of unwarranted heat, hatred, and vicious “trade him now” comments from a good portion of the fan base. Generally speaking, these comments are unnecessary for a defenseman who just turned 21 years old. The kid has a long way to go before anyone can even come close to labeling him as a bust. That said, this year is a big year for the young defenseman, both for himself and the success of the New York Rangers.
Del Zotto may not have been penciled into the top four defensemen in the offseason, but the injury to Marc Staal has forced Del Zotto to play top four minutes, and he has responded with relatively strong play. Of course, this is just through two games, and there have been a few mistakes made, but mistakes happen, no one is perfect.
The two most glaring mistakes that people point to are Del Zotto’s homerun passes, which generally never work, and his inability to cover Mike Richards on the LA Kings tying goal. Addressing each one: MDZ has only made two passes which I consider to be horrendous passes, one killed an offensive rush and the other was essentially a pass to Jack Johnson. Looking into the Richards goal, Del Zotto had great positioning, he just couldn’t get his stick on Richards’ stick. Richards is an elite forward, so it’s tough to really fault Del Zotto on that one, but it was his coverage.
Despite those mishaps, Del Zotto is going to be relied upon to be a top four defenseman for the forseeable future, and he has so far answered the call (through two games). This is a long season, but the Del Zotto we have seen so far this season is not the Del Zotto of last season. He is throwing his weight around (seven hits), playing good defense, and aside from a few passes, has done a decent job of carrying the puck up the ice. The offensive production will come, but the main issue has been his play in the other two zones. Thus far, he has been better than expected. If he continues like this, he will be a very pleasant surprise, and will make the Marc Staal injury easier to deal with.