Michael Del Zotto Season Review: More Defense, Please (Yes, You Read that Right)

Preds defenseman Michael Del Zotto controls the puck against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at Rexall Place on March 18, 2014. - Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Acquired by trade with the New York Rangers for stay-at-home defenseman Kevin Klein, the 23 year old native of a Toronto suburb gelled in the locker room almost instantly, and boasts some offensive upside. But the Nashville Predators have a ways to go to replace the shutdown ability they gave up in Klein, who will play for the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship starting this week.

The Stats

GP Goals Assists Points +/- PIM Shoot %
25 1 4 5 -4 8 3.8
5-5 Pts/60 CF% CF% rel Sh% Sv% PDO Pen +/- per 60
0.8 49.20% -2.8% 8.40% 89.70% 98.1 -0.2

Season Summary

Michael Del Zotto played only 25 games in a Nashville sweater this spring, and those games are all we really care about. Some of us were nervous about the trade when it was announced, fearing that an offensively-challenged Preds squad that relied heavily on backstopping ability to win close games had given away too much homegrown defensive talent in Kevin Klein. A fast skater with deft, puck-moving ability and superb vision for developing plays in the offensive zone (with a dearth of offensive talent in the roster to complement that vision), the blueliner acquitted himself reasonably well down a stretch run that many knew wouldn't end with a deep (or shallow) playoff run.

His five points in that stretch bode well for the future if he can maintain or even improve the pace, but his negative individual Corsi-for percentage suggest that his transition game -- first, effectively stopping an offensive attack, and second, sending it back up the ice -- needs some work. In other words, he came pretty much as advertised by our SB Nation sister site Blueshirt Banter, who wrote in January that

Here's the problem with Del Zotto, though: The consistency. Del Zotto's offense (to this point) hasn't blossomed enough to cover up for his defensive mistakes. And the 40-point season we saw in 2011-2012 never really returned. The Rangers were patient with Del Zotto (note: not the fans) but it never panned out. It's also worth mentioning that it wouldn't shock me if he broke out in Nashville. He has the tools to be an offensive player, but he's going to be far more expensive than Klein (another contract negotiation upcoming this summer) and he's far more volatile as a player.

He even spent a little time in Trotz's Doghouse™ as he watched his ice time dip in March. So MOAR OFFENZ PLZ is great but, as Dirk noted regarding Preds captain Shea Weber, not at the expense of defense. The new Predator Way must account for both aspects of the game.

Highlight Moment

Michael Del Zotto met cerebral palsy patient and New York Rangers superfan Liam Traynor at a charity event in 2010. This spring, thanks to the generosity of some Rangers fans, Traynor got to visit his pal Del Zotto in SMASHville. Sometimes, it's just not about the direction of the puck in play. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have some dust in my eye....

(Noted Sean Avery fan Rich Clune fishes for another Avery fan around the 1:45 mark.)

The Road Ahead

For the money, Del Zotto represents one of General Manager David Poile's bigger challenges this offseason. The Predators acquired the Stouffville, Ontario native, they said, to provide a left defenseman partner to 2013 first round draft pick (4th overall) Seth Jones for years to come. One factor to bear in mind is that Del Zotto will be just 24 years old later this month. He is, for all intents and purposes, still developing. But managing the apparent risk of Del Zotto's game, relative to the potential reward, is as unenviable a task for Poile as it was for Glen Sather in New York. Is the $2.9 million (or more) he just earned in a contract year warranted in a qualifying offer? Or should Poile get out now while he can, and use the money to acquire some additional help up front?

For my part, I'd like to see him qualified at his current level, and see how hungry he gets under a new head coach -- the fourth in his NHL career -- before he can test his value in unrestricted free agency. But I'm not sure his play warrants a raise just yet, small sample size be damned. As always, we want to hear from you in the poll and comments below, so be sure to vote and sound off....

OTF Staff Grades

Dirk (did not vote)
Jon Incomplete
Jason Incomplete
George C+
Jeremy C
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