Last year, Michael Del Zotto played in just 47 games for the New York Rangers. By late February, 2011, the Rangers organization made the decision to send him down to their AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
Del Zotto would only play 11 games for the Whale before suffering a string of injuries.
While other Rangers defensemen have remained injured throughout the first half of this season (Marc Staal, Steve Eminger, Michael Sauer), Del Zotto has risen to the occasion and stepped up his game considerably.
This season, Del Zotto has been one of the league-leading defensemen and an indispensable asset for the New York Rangers. Del Zotto currently has five goals, 18 assists and is a plus-24. In December, 2011, Del Zotto led the league with a plus-25.
Clearly, this has been a rebound year for Michael Del Zotto.
It's hard to believe that, at only 21 years of age, Del Zotto is posting the impressive numbers he is. More and more, Del Zotto is looking like a veteran on the ice—no fault of excellent leadership by Dan Girardi, Brad Richards, and even Brandon Prust (who coached Del Zotto on fighting over the summer).
Andrew Gross of The Record recently spoke to Brian Boyle regarding the elevated play of Michael Del Zotto:
"He wants to be a complete player," teammate Brian Boyle said. "He wants to be an All-Star player. He wants to be the Man."
Del Zotto wasn't selected for the upcoming 2012 NHL All-Star Game on January 29th, but Rangers head coach John Tortorella felt he warranted consideration.
The increased physicality and confidence in Del Zotto is evident in every Rangers game this season. It's easy to see that the extra time spent in the minors last year paid dividends for both Del Zotto and the Rangers.
The Rangers penalty kill has held opponents scoreless in seven of the last eight games (17-18, 94.4 percent over the span), and is 42-47 (89.4 percent) with five short-handed goals in the last 17 contests. The Rangers are tied for third in the NHL with six short-handed goals.