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Rangers thrilled to land Del Zotto at No. 20

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Del Zotto Highlights/Interview Video Watch

Day 2 Recap: Rangers Add High-Scoring Forwards
Rangers' 2008 NHL Entry Draft Picks at a Glance
Friday Night's First-Round Picks at a Glance
Complete List of 2008 NHL Entry Draft Picks

Del Zotto's Road to the Rangers
Rangers at 2008 NHL Entry Draft

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto of the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals became the newest member of the New York Rangers organization on Friday night after being selected 20th overall in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.

Michael Del Zotto, the Rangers' 2008 first-round draft pick, poses with Head Amateur Scout Jim Hammett after being selected 20th overall on Friday night.
Del Zotto, rated 15th overall in the annual Hockey News draft preview issue and 15th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is known throughout the OHL as an offensive defenseman, much like the Rangers' 2006 first-round pick, Bobby Sanguinetti, who also played his major-junior hockey in the OHL.

When it came time for the Rangers to pick at No. 20 on Friday night, there was a sense of celebration at the draft table, much like last year, when Alexei Cherepanov fell into the Blueshirts' hands at No. 17. Nearly half of Friday's first-round picks -- 12 in all -- were defenseman. Years from now, the 2008 NHL Entry Draft might go down in history, depending on the success of those players.

"We were really excited," Rangers Head Amateur Scout Jim Hammett said of the chance to draft Del Zotto. "We had held this guy in really high regard as far as how high he could go. We think that he belonged in that upper echelon with some of the other defensemen that went higher, so overall we were absolutely thrilled that he was still there."

The selection of Del Zotto was the lone pick made by the Rangers on Friday night, but the team returned to the draft table on Saturday to add six more players from the very deep draft class.

The draft's second day also featured a pair of trades, including one in which the  Blueshirts moved up to pick Czech defenseman Tomas Kundratek at No. 90 overall in the third round. In exchange for the right to take Kundratek, the Blueshirts sent prospect Alex Bourret to Phoenix, which had held the pick entering the draft.

In 2007-08, Del Zotto scored 16 goals and 63 points in 64 games for Oshawa, a strong follow-up to a rookie season that saw him score 10 goals and 57 points. As a rookie, he became the first 16-year-old defenseman named to an OHL All-Star Classic, and this past season he participated in the annual CHL Top Prospects Game, where he won the shooting accuracy skills event by going 4-for-4.

Del Zotto, whose 63 points ranked third among OHL defensemen and were only seven behind Sanguinetti, was at his best in the postseason, scoring two goals and eight points in 15 games as the Generals reached the third round of the league playoffs. He also tied for fifth in the league with five shorthanded goals.

His success wasn't just limited to league play. Representing Team Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games, Del Zotto scored the gold-medal clinching goal.

"He is the new breed offensive defenseman who jumps up into the rush effectively; he either follows up a rush to add a second dimension or there are times that he is capable of leading the rush himself," the NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. Maguire said in the league's publicly distributed draft profiles. "As an offensive defenseman, he is prototypical."

Earlier in the season, Del Zotto was rated as a possible top-five pick by scouts.

Kyle Woodlief's Red Line Report scouting publication compares Del Zotto to Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival at the same stage of his career and projects hi as a power-play quarterback specialist. The publication's staff writes that Del Zotto is a "tremendously instinctive offensive force who sees the ice beautifully, shows great touch on passes and can really run a power play with superb puck movement skills."

Growing up in Stouffville, Ontario, Del Zotto always wore No. 4 in tribute to Bobby Orr, who also played in Oshawa. Del Zotto was inspired to play defense by watching Orr in old Bruins game tapes that his father had recorded.

As a youngster, Del Zotto befriended fellow 2008 first-rounders Steven Stamkos (No. 1 to Tampa Bay) and Cody Hodgson (No. 10 to Vancouver), as all three players skated for the Markham Waxers in the greater Toronto area.

"Michael is a very skilled skater, puck handler, and shooter," Chris DePiero, Del Zotto's coach in Oshawa, told the NHL. "He can be a physical presence who will be an asset to any team's power-play.  He continues to improve defensively on a daily basis."

Generals GM Brad Selwood takes his praise even further, giving him high praise in this year's NHL draft preview guide.

"He is just poised way beyond his years. He fit right in from Day 1," said Selwood, a former NHL player. "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."

Rangers first-rounder Michael Del Zotto was among the highest-scoring OHL defensemen during the 2007-08 season..
Although he grew up a Maple Leafs fan and lists former New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer as his favorite NHL player, Del Zotto's NHL allegiances now belong to the Blueshirts, who continue to load up on talented young defensemen through the draft.

Three of the Rangers' past four first-round picks (Marc Staal, Sanguinetti and Del Zotto) have been defenseman. Within a few years they could all be together on the blue line along with two other young players in Dan Girardi and Fedor Tyutin, giving the Rangers reason to feel confident about their long-term future on the back end.

Hammett said it was purely coincidence that the last three defensemen picked by the Rangers in the first round all came from the OHL. The Blueshirts draft philosophy is to take the best player available, and like Sanguinetti in 2006, Del Zotto was a clear choice this year.

"We feel Michael thinks the game very well in his own zone and we think he's a pretty well-rounded kid who has done a lot of good things with the puck this year," said Hammett.

Saturday's second day of the draft saw the Rangers select six more players, including center Derek Stepan, a University of Wisconsin recruit who was chosen 51st overall in what Hammett referred to as "a really strong second round." Other picks were made at Nos. 75, 90, 111, 141 and 171.

In addition to the trade for the 90th overall pick, the Rangers sent their 2008 seventh-round choice and 2009 fourth-round selection to Nashville in exchange for the return of a fourth-round pick the Rangers had given to St. Louis in the Christian Backman trade. That pick, which had subsequently been traded to the Predators before returning to New York, was used to draft Dale Weise of the Swift Current Broncos.
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