Twenty-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto, after experiencing a bit of a rough patch in his sophomore season for the New York Rangers, will find himself suiting up for the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League later this week, as reported by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.
The move comes after several healthy scratches for Del Zotto, who suited up yesterday in the Rangers’ 3-0 loss in Sunrise, FL against the Panthers. Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh was called up and will likely make his NHL debut against the Hurricanes on Wednesday.
Del Zotto was on pace for 18 points this year after delivering 37 in his rookie season — 22 on the powerplay — numbers good enough to earn him a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team alongside Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Jimmy Howard and Niclas Bergfors.
Finishing at -20 last season, Del Zotto had been better in that regard this year at -1 but seemed out of sync at times, perhaps forcing the long pass and pinching at inopportune moments.
Del Zotto may have been rushed in to the league as a 19-year-old, but with the absence of a true puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback, the Rangers personnel felt comfortable keeping him on the roster, and the move wasn’t questioned given Del Zotto’s contributions.
Fellow second-year defenseman Matt Gilroy found himself in Del Zotto’s shoes last season, spending time in the minors working on his game and is now playing the best hockey of his career with three points in his last four. He’s also a +8 in 24 games.
McDonagh, one of the acquisitions in the Scott Gomez trade, played with current Ranger Derek Stepan at Wisconsin last year and was on the cusp of making the team out of camp. He’s a year older than Del Zotto, and while boasting a similar frame, is more of a shutdown player and won’t see time on the man advantage. McDonagh, through 38 games in the AHL, has a goal, seven assists and is +1.
The Rangers blueline was the main point of concern going into the season, but two pleasant surprises in Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger helped sort out some uncertainty. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have been solid in their first-line roles, while Michael Rozsival has been slow and steady if nothing else. The defense has given up the sixth most shots in the league as of Jan. 3.
The organization is content moving forward and building from within, and given the lackluster crop of potential free agent defensemen, the Rangers should be able to lean on their prospects and younger roster players like Del Zotto, Gilroy, Staal and Girardi for the remainder of the season.
Del Zotto, as seen here, has all the tools to be a legitimate NHL player for years to come.
News and Notes
-Rangers prospect Jesper Fasth (sixth-round, 157th overall, 2010 draft) has five points in five games at the 2011 World Junior Championships for Sweden, who will take on the US team for the bronze medal Wednesday.
-Chris Kreider has two goals and two assists in the tournament so far, while registering 16 shots in five games. He’s put up 11 points in 15 games this year at Boston College, giving him 34 points in 54 career games.
-Czech prospect Roman Horak put up one assist in five games in the tournament, finishing at a -2.
-Rangers rookie Derek Stepan currently sits third in the NHL in rookie scoring with 23 points behind San Jose’s Logan Couture (27) and Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (28). Stepan led all players in scoring in last year’s World Junior Championship.
-Brian Boyle has scored more points in 40 games this year than in his past three seasons combined. He’s on pace for a 45-point, 200 shot season.
-Mats Zuccarello is only the sixth Norwegian-born player to suit up for an NHL team, according to hockey-reference.com.
-Happy Birthdays to Marc Staal, who will turn 24 on Jan. 13 and Ruslan Fedotenko, who will be 32 on Jan. 18.
-Martin Biron ranks fifth among goaltenders with 15 starts or less in GAA with 2.39. This season, Biron is 6-3 and has appeared in 11 games.
Cory Twibell, a Towson University graduate and newspaper editor from Long Island.