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Del Zotto has been a perfect fit with Blue Jackets

Veteran defenseman has been a great addition for his play and his personality

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

In the first period of last Thursday's game at Chicago, a puck found Michael Del Zotto in a perfect shooting spot with goaltender Kevin Lankinen scrambling to get back into the play. 

Del Zotto let the shot go, and instead of screams of excitement, screams of frustration rang out in the United Center after the Blue Jackets defenseman missed the net -- by a decent margin -- when the puck rolled on him mid-release. 

Even worse, when Del Zotto got back to the bench, John Tortorella couldn't help himself. 

"It was a bit of a smart (aleck) remark to me on the bench," Del Zotto said of what greeted him from the head coach when he returned. "I think he knows that we can give it back and forth to each other. I just said to him, 'I promise I wasn't trying to miss the net by that much. I don't know what benefit that causes us,' but I'm glad the one in the third (period) went in. I haven't had a chance to give it back to him about that." 

Yes, as Del Zotto said, he was able to get the last laugh -- at least on the ice, if not on the bench. Del Zotto scored on a rebound late in that game vs. Chicago to tie the score at 5, then he assisted on Kevin Stenlund's game-winning goal moments later as Columbus posted a comeback 6-5 victory over the Blackhawks. 

Video: CBJ@CHI: Del Zotto scores game-tying goal in 3rd

That, in a nutshell, is what Del Zotto brings. The veteran defenseman has some offense to his game, and his defense has been solid as well thanks to puck-moving skills that allow him to sit at plus-9 through 17 games. And he's also not afraid to mix things up with his personality, whether it means chirping back and forth with Tortorella and his teammates or spicing things up with his notable DJ skills.  

"I think what a lot of guys respect about him is he's a lot of fun," captain Nick Foligno said. "He's a guy that is the first one to joke in the room. He's a bit of a (crap) disturber … which is nice. You need guys like that. You need guys with some personality and some flair, and DZ brings that." 

That's also a good thing to Tortorella, who has been through "the process" with Del Zotto, as he's spoken about numerous times this year. Del Zotto arrived in New York in 2009 when Tortorella was head coach of the Rangers as a 19-year-old hotshot, a first-round pick with flashy junior numbers and a game to match. 

Both the defenseman and the coach have admitted they had their battles back in the day, but more than a decade later, they are on the same wavelength. Del Zotto has turned appreciative of the tough love dispensed by Tortorella in their early days together, saying it was what he needed to learn to survive in the game, while Tortorella in turn seems to have a fair bit of pride in the pro and the man that the 30-year-old Del Zotto has become. 

"He's a good kid -- well, he's not a kid anymore," Tortorella said. "I think he's a really seasoned pro. I listen to him, I think he loosens up the bench sometimes. He's just good to be around. He's a good person, and you can't have enough good people in your locker room. 

"As I watch the players around him, it seems like he's fitting in really well, and he's played some good hockey for us." 

That was the question for Del Zotto, who was available on a professional tryout deal as the team went into training camp. After a bright start to his NHL career on Broadway -- he was plus-20 with 10 goals and 41 points as a 21-year-old in 2011-12 and made a few headlines on Page Six to go with it -- Del Zotto has bounced around the league in recent years, first going to Nashville at the deadline in 2014, then signing with Philadelphia before stints in Vancouver, Anaheim and St. Louis. 

He came to Columbus with 657 career games played and 236 points, but Del Zotto had found trouble getting his footing the past few seasons. Though he did get his name on the Stanley Cup in 2018-19, he was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs for the Blues team that won it all, and last year he played 49 games on an Anaheim team that was among the worst in the NHL. 

But he's been a perfect fit in Columbus, where his veteran wiles and puck-moving skills have earned him a shot all up and down the lineup on the blue line. In addition to his goal in Chicago, he has added five assists, and he's started to feel at home with the Blue Jackets despite coming into a new locker room and having to deal with the COVID-19 restrictions that limit bonding time between teammates.  

Video: One Lap for Feb. 12, 2021.

"I've been a bit more vocal in the room," he said recently.. "I like to joke around and enjoy every day. It's a privilege to be doing what we do. I try to keep things light, love joking around with my teammates. That's been the toughest part was not getting enough quality time with guys away from the rink, actually getting to know them on a personal level.  

"I was trying not to step on any toes early on. As each day goes on, I'm trying to get more and more comfortable, getting to know more and more teammates. With the restrictions, it makes it a little tougher, but I'm trying my best with what we can do right now." 

The feelings have been mutual, as the Blue Jackets are happy to have him around -- even if it means taking a beating every once in a while from one of the kings of the locker room barb.  

"He's a guy that really enjoys the game of hockey," Foligno said. "He's been around a long time, has played in a lot of different situations, been the guy, has been a complimentary piece. I think he's found his niche in the sense of what he's going to bring to our team, and he's excelled at it. We're thrilled to have him. 

"He's brought a lot of fun at a time it's pretty difficult to have fun. It's been great. We're just enjoying getting to know him even more, and the chirps never stop, that's for sure." 

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