Michael Del Zotto: Why the Rangers' Defenseman's Roster Spot Is His to Lose

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Michael Del Zotto: Why the Rangers' Defenseman's Roster Spot Is His to Lose
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

To describe Michael Del Zotto's second season in the NHL as a "sophomore slump" would be the understatement of the (new) century.

After opening eyes with his offensive play on the blue line, and making the NHL's All-Rookie Team as a nineteen-year-old, Del Zotto struggled early on in his second campaign, eventually being demoted to seventh defenseman, before being sent down to Connecticut (AHL) in late February.

When Del Zotto was sent down to Connecticut, Rangers' head coach John Tortorella it would be the best possible move in regard to the player's long-term future.

However, in order to see what Del Zotto's future really holds, Rangers' management will need to see him in New York this season.

The Rangers' first round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Del Zotto is an offensive-minded defenseman with the ability to rush the puck and make the long outlet pass. For a young Rangers defense corps that includes the shutdown pair of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, Del Zotto is by far the most offensively gifted.

With one year remaining on his entry-level contract, Del Zotto's play this season will determine if the Rangers will give him a long-term extension, or try to package him in a trade. Complicating his situation on the depth chart, this off-season the Rangers acquired defenseman Tim Erixon, who also brings an offensive element to his game.

Entering training camp, the Rangers have five defenseman returning from their playoff roster last year: Staal, Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, and Steve Eminger. Since Tortorella doesn't like to carry a lot of extra players, odds are either Del Zotto or Erixon will start the year in the AHL if they don't make the Rangers.

Since Del Zotto has shown flashes of great play, and Erixon hasn't played in North America, the sixth defenseman's spot is Del Zotto's to lose. However, if Del Zotto is going to be a big part of the Rangers' plans for this season and the foreseeable future, he needs to prove that the 2010-11 season was nothing more than a "sophomore slump".

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