Del Zotto was still a bit out of sorts after taking to the ice with his new team Thursday morning to prepare for a game against the Vancouver Canucks, but not as out of sorts as he was trying to play the right side as a left-shot defenseman for the New York Rangers this season. Getting the offensively gifted defenseman back on his natural left side was a big part of the trade for the Predators, who sent one of their excess right-shot defensemen, Kevin Klein, back to the Rangers.
"For sure, some guys enjoy playing the opposite side, but it's a very different game and for me, I've played left side my whole career and it was a bit of an adjustment," said Del Zotto, who will start with the Predators on the left side of impressive rookie Seth Jones.
Del Zotto, 23, had early success on the left side in New York.
Selected 20th by the Rangers in the 2008 NHL Draft, he recorded nine goals and 37 points in 80 games as a rookie in 2009-10, and posted a career best 41 points two seasons later. Del Zotto added 21 points in 46 games during the shortened 2012-13 season, but this year under new coach Alain Vigneault he only has two goals and 11 points in 42 games, and was a healthy scratch nine times.
Del Zotto didn't blame his struggles on having to play on his off side early this season, but was looking forward to getting back to his natural left side and away from the trade rumors that were a constant in New York.
"There have been lots of rumors," he said. "Obviously things weren't going as well as I would have liked this year and not playing the minutes I feel like I can play to be successful."
Del Zotto figures to get those minutes in Nashville, where his 292 games in the NHL put him behind only captain Shea Weber in terms of experience on a promising but young defense core that will be asked to contribute offensively to the goal-challenged Predators.
"We're going to let him loose," coach Barry Trotz said of Del Zotto. "He will get up in the play, he has a really good skill set and he's a young guy. It's a move that allows us to grow together. It's a really young core, but with a lot of upside."
First Del Zotto has to figure what side is up after the trip west.
"Four hours to get to the airport, a six-hour flight and the time change, so I am running off adrenaline here," Del Zotto said. "Being in New York four-and-a-half years, you call it your home, your life is there. I had my brother and sister-in-law living with me there, so that was probably the toughest part. You build so many relationships and it's tough to say bye, but it's a new chapter and I'm really excited."
The Canucks will also have a new look on defense.
Vancouver is still without injured captain Henrik Sedin, who had his ironman streak end at 679 games when a rib injury kept him out against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, and coach John Tortorella, who will serve the second of a six-game suspension and is present only through suggestions to fill-in Mike Sullivan. But defenseman Ryan Stanton is back after missing 15 games with a sprained ankle.
"He's really been a stabilizing force for our defense," Sullivan said. "He certainly makes us a better team."
Center Jordan Schroeder, who has been out since an ankle injury Oct. 19 that required surgery, is also expected back after a conditioning stint this weekend in the American Hockey League.
Here are the rest of the lineups for the Predators and Canucks:
Scratched: Victor Bartley
Injured: Pekka Rinne (hip)
Scratched: Yannick Weber