By Brian Monzo
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It was two years ago when a 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto took the Garden ice as a rookie. Aside from being a -20, he put up respectable numbers, scoring 9 goals and adding 28 assists for 37 points. With expectations high from being a first-round draft pick in 2008, he certainly looked like the potential offensive defenseman the Rangers have been seeking since Brian Leetch.
Last season was the opposite. He seemed to have lost his confidence, swagger and didn't seem focused on the game. After 47 miserable games, scoring only 11 total points, Del Zotto was sent down to the AHL in favor of Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh flourished immediately and is now one of the Rangers' top defensemen. Del Zotto played out the season in Connecticut before injuring himself, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.
In the offseason, coach John Tortorella challenged Del Zotto to find his game. 'Finding the right kind of swagger,' was how Tortorella worded it. Tough to argue that. Del Zotto played softer, lacked confidence and seemed disinterested last season. Maybe he was over his head from the season before. Perhaps he was enjoying being a young man living in New York City.
The exact issue isn't important. What is important is what is going on this season.
Whether it be maturity, taking to what Tortorella said seriously or wanting to prove himself, but this season Del Zotto looks like a different player.
Through 30 games, Del Zotto has three goals and 13 assist for 16 points, but is a team-leading +15. He is joining the rush more frequently, creating more chances, running the power play and getting more physical on both ends of the ice. It's been refreshing to watch.
With the Blueshirts defense in shambles right now due to injury (Marc Staal and Michael Sauer out with concussions, Steve Eminger out with a shoulder seperation, Jeff Woywitka has a foot issue), Del Zotto's ice time is due for an increase.
With the bright lights now on Del Zotto, it will really be up to him to keep this high pace of play up. With his talent and the opportunity he is being given, there is no reason to believe he will fail.
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