Wednesday, October 21, 2009

19 past 9 - Del Zotto Here to Stay

When the 19 year old Michael Del Zotto made the Rangers roster at the end of training camp - a lot of people thought it was just going to be a 9 game visit to the big leagues.

That's because the born-in-the-year-1990 defenseman still has Junior Hockey eligibility. Which means that the Rangers have a 9 game window to either keep playing him - or send him back to the Juniors.

So with a little shaky play - it could have been a quick cup of coffee for "Zots" (our nickname) and then back to the teenage league. And as we all know, Coach Tortorella is known for many things - but having patience with his players is NOT one of them.

But what we have seen these past few weeks is stunning. The kid's level of play is not only NHL-ready, it's at the top of the list.

Make that two lists. As of Tuesday morning, Micheal leads all defensemen with 9 points (4 goals and 5 assists). And that's not just all Ranger Defenseman - he leads ALL NHL DEFENSEMEN.

And there's more: Del Zotto leads ALL ROOKIES in points as well. That includes all rookie forwards.

And it's not just offense he's bringing. The young Canadian-born player has contributed mightily to a 6 man Ranger defensive rotation that has helped keep the goals per game around two goals a game. And that's not all Hank's doing - before Valiquette's implosion Monday, the defense helped Vali manage a shutout last week by limiting the shots he faced. In fact, the kid is pulling his weight on the back line better than a few multi-million dollar defensemen I could name.

You know, the much-maligned Ranger GM Glen Sather and coach John Tortorella took a big calculated risk this year. They jettisoned two veteran defensemen - Mara and Morris - and started their season with two rookies, the puck handling Gilroy and young Mike Del Zotto. This was no the safe bet and could have been a disaster. But Tortorella knew he wanted stamina and offense from his defenders and he took the risk. And so far - Torts has hit the jackpot.

And on Thursday night, the teenage Ranger will officially cross over. It will be his 10th game as a Ranger - severing his ties to the junior leagues forever. That will be our 19 (year old) past 9 (games) that we referred to in the title.

According to several reliable sources - and Larry Brooks - Sather has told the kid to find a place to stay in town. He's a Ranger for the season. And what once looked like a short visit in Ranger blue for Zots is going to be a long and productive stay.
9 days? The kid could be here for 9 years! Or more!
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