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Del Zotto shines again in Rangers' win

by Dave Lozo
NEWARK, N.J. -- Think about what you were doing when you were 19 years old.
Were you sweating out a college course you skipped once a week because waking up at 11 a.m. was just too difficult? Was your biggest hassle trying to maintain your relationship with your high school girlfriend while she studied overseas for a year?
All 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto has been asked to do is be a contributor for the New York Rangers as a top-six defenseman for a team that's been to the playoffs the past four seasons.
Through three NHL games, the Rangers' first pick in the 2008 Entry Draft is looking like he's been doing this for years.
"For a 19-year-old kid, putting pressure on him to be the quarterback of our power play, he's handled it very well," said Rangers coach John Tortorella of Del Zotto, whose second career goal in Monday night's 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils came with the man-advantage. "He's done some very good things."
The smooth-skating blueliner added an assist -- also on the power play -- while getting his first taste of the Rangers-Devils rivalry at Prudential Center. He's only three games deep into an 82-game schedule, but Del Zotto's two goals are tied for League lead among all defenseman with Calgary's Dion Phaneuf and his three points are tied for most among blueliners with Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
"It's still early," Del Zotto said when told of the company he's keeping this early in his career. "I don't want to make any assumptions or get too happy. But it's a good feeling to contribute and help out."
Early in the season or not, that's pretty impressive company for a 19-year-old.
If you're into comparing apples to oranges, consider Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who taken second overall in the same draft as Del Zotto. Doughty was a year younger when he was thrown into the fire as a rookie last season, but it took him 11 games to score his first goal.
The one big difference between Doughty and Del Zotto is that the Rangers' rookie is getting the benefit of being brought along slowly. While Doughty was routinely seeing 20-25 minutes of ice time from the get-go, Del Zotto is not being counted on to anchor the Rangers' blue line. He's averaging a shade over 13 minutes per game this season.
But Del Zotto is being looked to for offense on the power play. So far, the results have been positive.
With the Rangers down 2-1 in the second period, Del Zotto set up Ales Kotalik for a game-tying goal. He froze the defense with a subtle movement of his stick, freeing up Kotalik to one-time a shot past Martin Brodeur.
The play drew a rave review from Tortorella.
"That's something you can't teach," Tortorella said. "For a 19-year-old, those are the things you have to be excited about as an organization when you project him out two or three years from now. It's a pretty good thing going on here."
Del Zotto isn't the only rookie blueliner contributing to the Rangers. Boston University product Matt Gilroy picked up his first career point on his first career goal, beating Brodeur with a low slap shot to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead late in the second period that proved to be the difference.
But for all the good Del Zotto did on Monday night, the Stouffvilile, Ontario, native negated a power play in the second period by taking a tripping penalty in the attacking zone. Still, Tortorella doesn't see youthful transgressions from his inexperienced defensemen taking away from their first games in the Devils-Rangers rivalry.
"It's baptism by fire and they handled the minutes tonight," Tortorella said of his rookie defensemen. "They had some mistakes along the way, but they played well. (Del Zotto) is learning how to battle. He's learning how to protect the puck."
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