The New York Rangers announced the signing of defensive prospect Michael Del Zotto on Tuesday, strengthening New York’s already solid defensive pipeline. The signing is a bright spot in what looks like to be a quiet Rangers off-season, regardless of where the young blueliner will play in the fall.
Del Zotto, a month shy of his 19th birthday, was ranked at #32 in The Hockey News’ 2009 issue of Future Watch, and has made tremendous strides since falling into the Rangers’ lap as the 20th pick in the 2008 draft. Del Zotto will either play for New York or the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, as his age makes him ineligible to play for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford.
After splurging on the free agent market the past two summers, Rangers GM Glen Sather may want to reconsider reaching for the checkbook again this off-season. With Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival already being paid exorbitant salaries for what amounted to lackluster performances in 2009, it may be wise to inject some youth into New York’s blueline.
After nearly making the team in his first NHL training camp, the front office decided to not rush Del Zotto’s development, sending him back to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. By season’s end Del Zotto had been traded to the London Knights, which was primed to make a run at the Memorial Cup. That dream came to an end in a heartbreaking series in which the Knights were dispatched by the Windsor Spitfires in five games.
That’s not to say the move from Oshawa to London hurt Del Zotto’s play. Quite the contrary, actually, his plus/minus rating improved from a -9 with the Generals to a +12 playing for Dale Hunter in London. Del Zotto’s playoff numbers were equally impressive, notching three goals and 19 points in 14 games.
Should Del Zotto make the Rangers’ opening night roster this fall, he will gain valuable experience in becoming New York’s future power-play quarterback. Del Zotto’s play is suited to the run-and-gun style head coach John Tortorella likes to utilize.
The Rangers’ brass would be wise, however, to see how Tortorella handles the young blueliner through the season’s first ten games. Should Del Zotto’s ice time fall victim to Tortorella’s penchant to rely heavily on his veteran skaters, Sather will have no choice but to send Del Zotto back to London so the first year on his contract won’t kick in.
With a young defensive core already established at the NHL level in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the Rangers now have Del Zotto, Michael Sauer and Bobby Sanguinetti waiting in the wings. With Derek Morris likely leaving for free agency, there may be some stiff competition to earn a spot in training camp.
Del Zotto will just have to keep doing what he does best.
“The mindset I want to have is that I want to go into camp trying to make the team,” he said. “That’s the only way you can go into it. I’ll go in there and try my hardest and hopefully give the coaching staff a tough decision to make.”