Michael Del Zotto’s future with the Predators is up in the air. Thus far, there has been no news about a potential new contract for the restricted free agent. Del Zotto has stated more than once that he loves playing in Nashville and he would like to stay. Teammates Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have spoken up in his defense, citing his offensive-mindedness and his playmaking skills. What ultimately matters, however, is what general manager David Poile thinks.
Perhaps Del Zotto set the bar too high as a 21-year old with his 41 points and 12th place Norris finish. He certainly hasn’t lived up to that standard since. But he had 37 points his rookie season. That total would’ve had him finishing third on the Predators in defensive scoring this year, and it suggests his career season was not a fluke but a portent of things to come.
Let’s state some facts. Del Zotto is 23 years old. Defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, and he never spent any time in the AHL, making the leap directly from major-junior hockey to playing for the New York Rangers.It appears that his development has simply stalled.The problem is finding what is going to kick it into high gear again. The solution could be as simple as signing him to a bridge deal and giving him a shot at a full-time role, but making it clear he will earn every minute of ice time he gets.
A Chance Worth Taking?
Del Zotto is a risk the Predators can afford. It’s likely he would agree to another short-term contract to stay, and it would be worth it to see how he develops next season under a new coach (sidebar: given the recent news of Tortorella’s firing by Vancouver, how hilarious would it be if he came to Nashville and reunited with Del Zotto?). He has a high ceiling, and his offensive creativity could be valuable if they play him with Seth Jones, as was originally intended. Jones can be trusted to cover the back end, which would allow Del Zotto to jump into the play if needed, and that could be beneficial to both team and player.
The Predators don’t need him to turn into a top-pairing defenseman. They already have three of those. What they need is for Del Zotto to carve out a place for himself in their defensive lineup. That place could be with Jones, who statistically makes every defensive partner he plays with better; or with Ellis, who has stated that he enjoys playing with Del Zotto because they are similarly offensively minded. But no matter who he plays with, if given the opportunity he needs to grab it with both hands if he wants a long-term shot with Nashville.