A couple really promising rearguards caught my eye last spring. Actually, being from the area, I noticed former Oshawa General Michael Del Zotto a lot earlier than that. But from a fantasy standpoint, I started taking Del Zotto and Washington prospect John Carlson quite seriously. I figured both were a year away from full-time NHL status and two or three away from putting up solid points.
It looks like that assessment was bang on for Carlson so far, as he is playing for Hershey of the American League (and already has four points in four contests). On the other hand, Del Zotto has shouldered his way into the NHL – and what’s more, he has forced his way onto the Rangers’ top power play unit.
Both Del Zotto and Carlson, who became teammates when the Generals traded Del Zotto to the London Knights last year in the John Tavares trade, have high-end upside. Either one is capable of blossoming into that rare 65-point star NHL blueliner – Carlson even more so because of the elite talent he’ll be feeding pucks to in Washington.
But Del Zotto had one big advantage heading into camp this year: the team was without a power play quarterback. Sure, you could pretend Wade Redden’s obscene contract earned him another shot at the job, or that Michal Rozsival can still hang onto that spot even though Jaromir Jagr has been gone for more than a year now.
You could fantasize about Dan Girardi’s upside being higher than 30 points, too. But the bottom line is the Rangers desperately needed somebody to run the show with the man advantage. With Del Zotto, Bobby Sanguinetti and Matt Gilroy all in camp, the team was praying one of those three would prove not only ready for the big league, but demonstrate he was ready for a pretty big responsibility. Had they fallen through, talks with Carolina about Anton Babchuk would have started, or talks with Dennis Seidenberg’s agent would have been more serious.
Not to worry. Coach John Tortorella took an immediate liking to Del Zotto and has been unafraid to thrust him into what could be the biggest role on the team outside of Henrik Lundqvist. If Torts’ handling of Dan Boyle in Tampa is any indication, Del Zotto can expect some crazy-big minutes. That hasn’t happened yet, as his average ice time per game has hovered around 17 minutes. But his average PP time is close to the four-and-a-half minute mark, which is more than Marian Gaborik. Four of Del Zotto’s five points this season came with the man advantage.
The Stouffville, Ont., native won’t keep up this torrid pace, but it’s looking as though he will be one of those rare defensemen to give you 45 points as a rookie.
As for Carlson? Next year. Just wait…
Farm Report: In his first three professional games, Carolina prospect Drayson Bowman has three goals and five points for Albany of the AHL. The future top-sixer will get a long look in camp next fall and will almost certainly – as certain as a prospect can get, anyway – be on the Hurricanes by 2011-12.
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