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Del Zotto sharpens defensive game

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By Jim Cerny,

The offensive part of playing hockey has always come quite easily for Michael Del Zotto. But to make the Rangers roster out of training camp in September, the 19-year-old defenseman knows he can not be a one-dimensional player and must provide an all-around game in order to play at the National Hockey League level.

Michael Del Zotto has had a very eventful year since posing for this picture shortly after he was the Rangers' top pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.
If his performance at last week’s prospects camp is any indication, Del Zotto’s defensive game has developed quite nicely since he was selected in the first round, 20th overall, by the Rangers in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

“Defense was the one thing I really needed to work on to definitely help out my game,” said Del Zotto, who split last season with Oshawa and London in the Ontario Hockey League. “I made big improvements in that facet of the game.”

Following his impressive showings, both in last year’s prospects camp and in training camp a year ago, with the Rangers, Del Zotto was told by the club to head back to junior and concentrate on improving his play in his own end of the ice, while also remaining an offensive force.

Del Zotto did just that. With some added muscle to his 6-foot frame, Del Zotto became more engaged in the defensive game, with scouts raving about his improvements there. A mid-season trade from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights further boosted his learning curve in the defensive zone as Del Zotto played alongside John Carlson, a defensively-sound former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals.

“Especially come playoff time, I think I really improved a lot,” said Del Zotto. “I’ve never been known to block shots, but it’s something I really improved on because that’s what you do in the playoffs. It wasn’t the prettiest sight, but I got the job done.”

Despite keying on improving his defensive game, Del Zotto made sure that his offensive game remained up to par, as well. A smooth skater with good instincts and on-ice awareness, Del Zotto combined for 63 points (13-50-63) in 62 games for Oshawa and London last season. In the playoffs, Del Zotto stepped up his play and recorded an impressive 19 points (3-16-19) in 14 games for the Knights.

During his three years in the OHL, Del Zotto has been pretty much a point-per-game player, notching 183 points over 190 career matches. He is expected to emerge as a solid offensive defenseman in the National Hockey League, one who will hopefully quarterback the power play for years to come.

But to get that opportunity this upcoming season, Del Zotto will first have to prove to head coach John Tortorella that he will be bringing the complete package of a two-way game with him to The Garden.

“You have to go in feeling confident about yourself,” said Del Zotto. “First of all I plan on coming to camp in the best possible shape, and then I plan on doing everything I can to make the team.”

Tortorella said last week that many of the organization’s young prospects -- a group that includes Del Zotto, winger Evgeny Grachev, center Artem Anisimov, and defenseman Matt Gilroy -- will be given every opportunity to make the varsity out of training camp this fall. There’s no doubt that over the next few years, Del Zotto and Gilroy will be part of a mix of promising young defensemen that includes Bobby Sanguinetti, Corey Potter, Mike Sauer, Finnish import Ilkka Heikkinen, and newly-acquired Ryan McDonagh.

With his immense talent, passionate desire to improve, and impressive work ethic, Del Zotto might just move right to the head of that impressive class of young Rangers defensemen, and do so as soon as this September.

“I feel like I have made drastic changes to my game and improved so hopefully the coaching staff sees what they want and choose me.”
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