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Del Zotto patterns game after all-time legend

by Adam Kimelman

Oshawa Generals defenseman Michael Del Zotto, the No. 15-ranked North American skater, has tried to emulate aspects of his game after Bobby Orr.
Watch Del Zotto's scouting video!
Most of the top prospects for the 2008 Entry Draft cite today’s stars among their favorite players -- Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Oshawa Generals defenseman Michael Del Zotto, though, looks to a past star Oshawa defenseman who proceeded to be arguably the best player in hockey history with the Boston Bruins.

“There are a couple of players I like to look at,” said Del Zotto, “but all-time my favorite hockey player is Bobby Orr. And growing up I've been watching the Best of Bobby Orr tapes.”

The Orr influence came from Del Zotto’s father, a former Junior A player in North York, Ontario, where Del Zotto was born.

“He was my dad’s favorite player and I watched tapes of him growing up,” said Del Zotto. “Just how he could skate and control the play and move things at his own tempo. How he could create offense from the back end. … (My father) had all the tapes, the Best of Bobby Orr tapes, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched them growing up.”

Del Zotto may not have Orr’s transcendent style of play, but he’s an offensive-minded defenseman who could be a long-time quarterback for an NHL power play.

“He is the new breed offensive defenseman who jumps up into the rush effectively,” NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said. “He either follows up a rush to add a second dimension, or there are times that he is capable of leading the rush himself.  As an offensive defenseman, he is prototypical.”

His 63 points (16 goals, 47 assists) were third among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, and his eight power-play goals were tops among Generals defensemen. He had another eight points in 15 playoff games.

“Definitely being an offensive defenseman is what I like to do,” Del Zotto said. “I love quarterbacking the power play – jumping up in the rush and kind of surprising the other team, catch them off guard and create some offense. I love handling the puck and using my vision to make strong passes.”

All that success earned him the No. 15 ranking among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

“He is just poised way beyond his years,” Oshawa General Manager Brad Selwood said. “He fit right in from Day 1. Last year when we first saw him, even in the exhibition games, you’d think he was 20 years old. You’d have to rub your eyes and say, ‘Wow, who is that kid?’ He’s so poised and so good with the puck ... he loves to pass the puck, and he’s very good at it. Everything’s hard and crisp and on the stick.”

Del Zotto, who won’t turn 18 until June 24, does have room for improvement. Like most teenage offensive-minded defenseman, coverage in his own zone is an issue. At 6-feet tall and 196 pounds, he is big, but he can be more physical and apply his size in the right way.

“He needs to improve on the defensive coverage side of the game,” McGuire said. “He is an offensive defenseman who is looking to jump up into the rush and is looking offense first. Initially, he projects to be an offensive specialist, but as he gains more experience, as he has done in junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals, he’ll become more of an all-around defenseman.”

That was Del Zotto’s plan coming into the season. He went from a minus-1 in 2006-07 to a plus-7 this past season while playing the same number of games, 64. In the playoffs, he improved from a minus-5 in nine games in 2007 to a plus-1 in 15 games in 2008.

“I had some goals as far as points go and I was close to meeting them all,” Del Zotto said. “But really I wanted to focus on my defensive play and improve throughout the year.  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.”

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