by Patrick Hoffman on 09/09/12 at 08:00 AM ET
When you are in the National Hockey League, it is not enough to have just one good season.
This is the kind of attitude that New York Rangers' defenseman Michael Del Zotto must have when the puck drops on the upcoming season, whenever that may be. In fact, for Del Zotto, it is the only way that he will survive under team head coach John Tortorella.
When the 22-year-old entered the league in the 2009-10 season, Del Zotto showed how gifted he was and how he could be too four defenseman in the NHL. That season, Del Zotto posted 37 points (9 goals and 28 assists) in 80 games. Four of the nine goals were on the power play and he even managed to score one game-winning goal as well.
However, one statistic that was quite alarming was Del Zotto's -20. While there was no doubt that Del Zotto could play well on the offensive side of the puck, his defensive abilities certainly did not measure up to other defensemen in the league.
In his second season, Del Zotto hit the "sophomore slump" and struggled mightily with the Blueshirts. Due to his struggles, Del Zotto played in just 47 games with the Rangers scoring 2 goals and adding 9 assists to go along with a dismal -5.
It was Del Zotto's play on the defensive side of the puck that got him in trouble with Tortorella. That season, the Rangers sent Del Zotto down to the American Hockey League (AHL) to play with the club's farm team, the Connecticut Whale. With the Whale, Del Zotto had 7 assists in 11 games before getting injured for the rest of the season.
Last year, Del Zotto returned to the Rangers and showed once again that he could put up points. Del Zotto was fifth on the team in scoring with 41 points (10 goals and 31 assists) in 77 games.
Del Zott's plus/minus also improved as he was a +20. Yes, he got a lot of help from the likes of being on the ice with the likes of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, and Ryan Callahan but Del Zotto also showed that he had gotten somewhat better defensively.
With that said, Del Zotto needs to continue to work on his play in his own zone. Last season, there were times when Del Zotto's confidence with the puck looked shaky, he found himself out of position or he gave up the puck.
When you are playing for Tortorella, these kind of things simply will not cut it. Yes, Tortorella knows that Del Zotto was definitely a better player last season but at the same time, he knows that Del Zotto has room for improvement.
Tortorella said the following to MSG.com's Stan Fischler regarding the improved play of Del Zotto and what he needs to do to become an even better NHLer:
"After a year in the minors Michael made a great comeback; no doubt about that and he's become more consistent. He's one of the best at joining the rush and I love his aggressiveness that way. But he still has to improve his 'hardness' and mental toughness. I want him to know that he has to do what he did last season every year. That's when you become a player."
Hopefully for the Blueshirts, Del Zotto will continue to make progress and play well with the rest of the team's young defensive corps.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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