The Philadelphia Flyers announced they signed defenseman Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $1.3 million contract last week to replace Kimmo Timonen, who is out indefinitely with blood clots in his lungs and body.
Del Zotto is only 24 years old. So the question becomes, is the Stouffville, Ontario, native gong to spend one season in "The City of Brotherly Love," or does the potential exist for him to be part of the team's plans beyond 2014-15?
The short answer is that it obviously depends on how well he plays this season with the Flyers and how well he fits in with coach Craig Berube's system. But what are the deciding factors at play here?
MDZ has already put up some impressive numbers during his brief NHL career. As a rookie, Del Zotto scored nine goals and 37 points for the New York Rangers in 2009-10, including 12 points in his first 14 NHL games. He was named the league's top rookie for October 2009. Two years later, he scored 10 goals and 41 points, both career highs. He was also a plus-20 that season and added 10 more points in 20 playoff games.
Since then, however, his progress has faltered and his game has regressed. Del Zotto started last season with the Rangers but got off to a slow start and saw his playing time diminish. He appeared in 42 games and scored just 11 points for the Rangers and occasionally found himself a healthy scratch. Eventually, the Rangers traded Del Zotto to the Nashville Predators for veteran defenseman Kevin Klein.
The change of scenery didn't help Del Zotto. In Nashville, he played in 25 games and scored just one goal and five points. The Predators did not offer him a contract for 2014-15 even though they could have held on to his rights because he was only eligible to become a restricted free agent. He went unclaimed until the Flyers came calling last week after Timonen's health issues became apparent.
Predators general manager David Poile was not impressed with what he saw in Del Zotto. "It was a good try," Poile told Josh Cooper of The Tennessean when asked about the trade. "The disappointing part is Del Zotto is a good player, but right now he's miscast."
Inconsistency was a major factor. According to Larry Brooks of The New York Post, who covered the defenseman during his time on Broadway, Del Zotto earned a reputation as being "difficult to coach" and "not only when he's defending in his own end." It seemed neither John Tortorella nor Alain Vigneault could get the young defenseman back on track during the past two seasons.
For Del Zotto, confidence had a lot to do with his disappointing performance last season. "It's a confidence game," Del Zotto told Frank Seravalli of The Philadelphia Daily News. "If you don't believe in yourself to make the plays that you need to as an offensive player, it's tough to go on from there. I really didn't get much ice time after the first week of the season."
With Timonen's departure, the Flyers had a need for an offensive-minded defenseman, and Del Zotto had the most upside of the available free agents. Del Zotto realizes the offensive ability on the Philadelphia roster. "I think that's where I can step in, move the puck up to a lot of those forwards that can make plays and being able to join the rush and help out and contribute offensively," Del Zotto told Seravalli. "I'm just happy to be another piece of the puzzle."
The young blueliner realizes how vital this season is for his future. "This offseason is the most motivated I've ever been to get back and prove people wrong - and get back to where I was before," Del Zotto told The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi. "I'm excited to join Philadelphia - a great team and a great opportunity for me."
This will be a do-or-die season for MDZ in Philadelphia. If he returns to his previous form and scores 35-40 points while providing some speed and mobility to the Flyers' lineup, he could become part of the team's future beyond next season. If not, the Flyers will not re-sign him and his transition from highly touted rookie to NHL journeyman will be complete.
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