New York Rangers: Fans, Don't Give Up on Del Zotto

Matthew CalamiaCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers chases the puck against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 28, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Every team needs its whipping boy, and there's no denying that among Rangers fans, that boy is Michael Del Zotto

The 22-year-old doesn't get booed at Madison Square Garden or benched often by head coach John Tortorella, but Del Zotto sure hears it from Rangers fans on Twitter. But why?

There's no denying Del Zotto took a giant leap back in his sophomore season of 2010-11 after a very strong rookie campaign the year prior. After scoring nine goals and 37 points while being minus-20 in 80 games in 2009-10, Del Zotto followed it up with just two goals and 11 points in 47 games.

Fans were quick to attack the Stoufville, Ont.-native and were happy to see him demoted to the AHL.

This past season, though, Del Zotto completely turned his game around. Sure, at times he was suspect in his own end, but the stats were there for an offensive-minded defenseman, something the Rangers sorely lack right now.

In 77 games, Del Zotto scored 10 goals and 41 points while going an astounding plus-20. For a defenseman with issues in his own end, a plus-20 is impressive.

Del Zotto's stats were comparable to other high-profile NHL blueliners. He finished 18th in the league in scoring among defenseman, just five points behind Ryan Suter, three points behind Kevin Bieska and just two points behind Keith Yandle. He finished ahead of Duncan Keith, Jack Johnson, Matt Carle and Drew Doughty.

Does that mean Del Zotto is better than those he finished behind? No. But you want your offensive-defenseman to produce, and Del Zotto is clearly doing that. 

In addition to the increased offensive production, Del Zotto improved his physical game. He was scared to take the body with anyone in the NHL, especially in the playoffs. The Ottawa Senators' Chris Neil blind-sided Brian Boyle, leaving the center with a concussion. Del Zotto later caught Neil with his head down and dazed the agitator.

There's plenty of room for Del Zotto to improve in, and he knows it. He's a tough critic on himself, and rightfully so.

It's a shame that so many Rangers fans, the same Rangers fans who praise the organization for the direction its going in and its reluctance to part with any of their youth, is ready to cast Del Zotto off after just one more season in the NHL, a season when he was just 21-years-old.

The Rangers have to stay the course. It appears they will, as Del Zotto seems to be included in that exclusive "untouchable" list.

The point to all of this? Give the kid a break and give him some time to develop because the writing is on the that this first-round pick is going to work out for the Blueshirts. Just be patient.


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