As the preseason began, many Ranger fans were happy to see that Del Zotto was going to be getting some game experience in the preseason. Obviously, we did't expect much from the 18 year old defenseman, but we all hoped that if anything, it'd be a good learning experience for him. But soon enough, he would be turning heads, standing out with strong play at both ends of the ice. If he weren't just 18, it'd be hard to come up with an excuse to keep him off of the Rangers this year. While he really should not be on the team this year, it's always nice to see your top prospects make it hard for the team to send him back to juniors. We saw a similar situation with Marc Staal, who played very well at such a young age for them. Here, I will break down why one would keep him up, and why you would send him down.
WHY WOULD YOU KEEP DEL ZOTTO UP?
Crazy when you think about it, how many defenseman already have shots of playing right out of the 2008 NHL entry draft. For the most part, defenseman usually take a few years to develop. Usually they play out their junior eligibility before playing up to 3 seasons in the AHL. This draft class alone has produced a number of defenseman who have real legit shots at making the roster. Players like Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, and Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn (taken 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and 5th respectively) all have great shots of making it to the NHL right out of the draft. It's been said that the only thing separating Del Zotto from Doughty or Bogosian is the defensive zone play. Del Zotto put up big offensive numbers in juniors. His 63 points was 3rd in the OHL, and first among 2008 draftees. The offense has been there in juniors, and although he hasn't registered a point, he has played well in the offensive zone, showing great vision and making good passes. If there was such thing as a third assist, he would have had one when he got the play going on the Rangers second goal in the 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay last night. Now the one thing that kept him from being one of the top picks in the draft was as I mentioned, his defensive zone play. Well so far, we've seen him hit, break up plays, and make good passes out of the zone. He has also been doing all of it, playing against the better players from the other team. He has done all that you would expect any good defenseman to do and then some, and that is to be reliable in their own zone, and not make careless mistakes. I know it's preseason, but it's a very promising sign, one that we are all very excited to see. Mix all this is with the fact that Dmitri Kalinin has shown potential of being the next (insert sarcastic voice here) fan favorite, see Marek Malik, and you could possibly argue a spot in the top 6 for him. You would also have extra time to make the decision, as junior players have some cushon of NHL games they can play. The Kings did this with Johnathan Bernier last year. He made the team out of camp, but they sent him back to juniors after a few games when they decided he needed more time. The same can possibly be done for Del Zotto. If he makes the team, but a few games in to the regular season shows he isn't NHL ready, then with one phone call, he is back in Oshawa.
WHY SEND HIM BACK TO THE OHL?
This argument is a lot easier to make, and probably won't be as long as the other one. It's pure and simple. He's 18 years old. Not many 18 year olds can play in the NHL, let alone a defenseman. If he were to play in New York, he'd have to compete for playing time on the bottom pair. If he goes to Oshawa, he'll be a top pair guy, the center piece of the defensive corps. Also, if he's in the NHL, he'll miss out on his chance of playing in the World Junior Championships that all Canadian kids dream of playing in. If he plays well enough, he'll have a shot of getting on the roster for team Canada. It would be a huge confidence booster to Michael, and it could only help his game to play at players in his own level, at such a big stage. If he played in New York, his first game would be in Europe, with so many more people watching, on such a bigger stage then he's really seen before, then come play at one of the biggest sports stages in the country, New York City. Let him get a little bit older, and a little bit more mature
HOW DO I FEEL?
Personally, I feel it'd make a lot more sense to send him back to juniors, to be the number one guy, perhaps in the league, but certainly on Oshawa, playing on a team with soon to be NHL phenom Johnathan Tavares. I could see why many Ranger fans would want to keep him up though. It's hard not to get excited about young talent like Michael Del Zotto. When any young player plays like he has, it's obviously going to raise some eyebrows. If Del Zotto was one year older, he might already be penciled in to the lineup, but at just 18, he might be just a little bit to young to play defense against the big men of the NHL on a consistant basis. Still, it's hard to argue against the talent he has. In a few years, teams are going to be wondering why they passed on Michael Del Zotto.
Jason Klau is a writer at www.freewebs.com/NHL2Day