With only four returning veteran defensemen on the roster, the Rangers have two vacant roster spots up for grabs on defense. One of those spots could fall into the hands of last year's first round pick Michael Del Zotto, who turned some heads with an impressive showing at training camp last September.
At last year's camp, Del Zotto knew he had little to no shot at making the club. He knew his fate was another season in the OHL, he wasn't under pressure to make the team. This year is an entirely different story.
With the two spots on defense open, DZ will have every bit the opportunity as Matt Gilroy, Bobby Sanguinetti, Corey Potter, Michael Sauer, and Finnish import Ikka Heikenen (yes, yes the one whose last name sounds like that delicious beer) to make the big club.The pressure will be very real this time around.
When Del Zotto was traded along with teammate John Tavares (the second coming of Alexander Daigle—well, let's hope so anyways) to the London Knights, he silenced some critics who questioned his conditioning and defensive ability. With the Knights, Del Zotto regularly logged 30 minutes of ice time along with eventual first round pick John Carlson. He also notched 6 goals and 24 points during 28 regular season games with his new team. Former NHLer and London Knights head coach Dale Hunter was impressed with Del Zotto's play.
"You know he's talented but until the trade, you didn't really know how good he was. You'd only see him two times a year and it's hard to get an impression. But he came here and it wasn't just the offense. He hit hard. He did a great job for us and I think he can help a team."
Del Zotto was also more than a point per game player during the Knights playoff run, tallying 19 points in 14 playoff games. Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park is a big proponent of a Rangers prospect dominating his current league (in this case the OHL) before moving up. Although Del Zotto didn't flat out dominate the OHL because of his pedestrian first half with the Oshawa Generals, he was excellent down the stretch run with the Knights. Rubenstein was on the money when he said that Del Zotto being traded to a playoff team was the best thing that could happen for his development.
In order for Del Zotto to make the Rangers, he's going to have to elevate his play to the point where it makes it impossible for the Rangers to return him to London. He will then have to erase any uncertainty about his ability to compete at the NHL level for a full season during his first 10 games. Since Del Zotto is only 19, he can't play in the AHL. He therefor has 10 games to stick in the NHL before he has to be returned to his OHL club.
The Rangers in the past few years have not rushed their young players. There isn't a whole lot of urgency in the organization for Del Zotto to make the jump to the NHL. With a plethora of young defenseman in their system who already have pro hockey experience, the Rangers can afford to have Del Zotto develop for one more season with the Knights. Then again, it would be great to see Del Zotto force the Rangers to the keep him.
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