|Del Zotto is ranked 15th among North American skaters eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The 17-year-old from Stouffville, Ontario, came into this season as a highly rated prospect for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft largely based on his outstanding offensive abilities. But the knock on him was his play in his own end.
Del Zotto heard the criticism and spent the entire 2007-08 season working on the defensive aspect of his game. The results were impressive.
Del Zotto improved his scoring totals to 16 goals and 63 points in 64 games but the stat that he was most impressed with was his plus-7 rating after spending his rookie season in the negative.
“I had some goals as far as points go and I was close to meeting them all, but really I wanted to focus on my defensive play and improve throughout the year,” Del Zotto said. “I think I’ve done that. There is still some room for improvement. No one is a perfect player. I just want to keep working hard on that next year, too.”
Del Zotto slipped one spot in the final draft rankings, but is ranked 15th among North American skaters and is considered a solid first-round pick this June.
“A lot of people have been asking me about it (the draft),” Del Zotto said earlier this week before the Generals were knocked out of the Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference championship series. “We kind of joke around a bit with the players about where I’m going to go, but I haven’t thought too much about it. It’s in the back of my mind, I‘ve just been focusing on the playoffs right now.”
Del Zotto’s improvements this season were most visible during the Generals’ extended playoff run. He played with an edge throughout the postseason, racking up a team-high 38 penalty minutes to go along with two goals and eight points in 15 games. He was also a plus-1 through the playoffs.
“I had a blast going that far,” said Del Zotto, who was the youngest defenseman to ever play in the OHL All-Star Game when he did it as a 16-year-old last season. “The team was playing well. It’s almost like playing another season.”
Del Zotto said that his spike in penalty minutes wasn’t expected but came as a result of playing an aggressive style throughout the playoffs.
“Really I just want to go out and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Del Zotto said. “I like to play with an edge and play a little bit physical and just prove to the guys that we are here to win. I really wanted to do whatever it took to help this team.”
Del Zotto said that playing in the World Under-18 Championships last spring helped him understand how important the defensive side of the game would be to his future success. He was a sponge throughout the season working with Generals coaches Brad Selwood and then Chris DePiero as well as the Generals’ blue line veterans to fine tune that aspect of his game.
“That’s the thing that I’ve worked on the most,” Del Zotto said. “The coaching staff has helped me out a lot. My defense partner James DeLory and guys like Eric Regan and Ryan McGinnis; they have really helped me out a lot and been great to me.”
Del Zotto helped the Generals post their best record in more than a decade and was a key part of their first semifinal appearance since 1999; but the team struggled through a tough stretch at the end of the regular season that included just one win in their final 12 regular-season games. Del Zotto was still producing during that rugged stretch, scoring 10 points in the final 12 games.
Del Zotto was the second-overall pick in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection behind Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting. They played minor midget hockey together the previous season with the Markham Waxers and Del Zotto said that he still keeps in regular contact with Stamkos, who is expected to be the first-overall pick again in June.
“We’ve been talking a bit, especially after the lottery,” Del Zotto said. “We were joking around about where he wanted to go. Tampa was his choice so it’s lucky for him. I’m happy for him. He and (Alex) Pietrangelo were out for our last home game. It was good to see them again.”
Del Zotto is looking forward to catching up with them again this June in Ottawa.