For whatever reason, Michael Del Zotto takes an absolute beating from fans of the New York Rangers. Given how much criticism he takes, whether it’s over the course of a game or a season, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22.
Del Zotto is part of a Rangers blue line that is among the better units in the league. Between MDZ, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, this is a group with a tremendously bright future. But of the four, it might be Del Zotto who has the highest ceiling.
In his third season last year, Del Zotto made some impressive strides. His overall play improved. He was stronger on defense, playing better in his own zone. He was not without the occasional struggles still, but after his disaster of a season in ’10-’11, it was a nice bounce back year.
Del Zotto also showed he could put up the points. We knew that from his rookie year, but Del Zotto finished with a career-high 41 points on the season, which was among the best in the league among blue liners. With his shot and offensive ability, he’s a player who should continue to hit at least 40 points regularly. That plus-20 wasn’t too shabby either, after finishing a minus-20 in his rookie season in ’09-’10.
Where Del Zotto is very underrated is in the physical game. He was one of the more physical players on the team overall and second among defensemen, behind Girardi, in hits. That’s pretty impressive considering he’s not one of the biggest guys out on the ice.
Del Zotto’s skill set is enough to become an elite offensive defenseman in the National Hockey League at some point. But as improved as he was overall, he still has a ways to go to become a complete two-way defenseman. If he continues to improve defensively and perform well in his own end, the sky is the limit.
He was thrown into the fire very early into his career, which didn’t help him much as a 19-year-old. But he started to get it together last year and if that season from Del Zotto is any indication, he could be a special one on the blue line. Now they just need to get him a new contract.