TORONTO – The highest-scoring rookie in the NHL plays in New York, but it’s not the Islanders’ No. 1 draft pick John Tavares.
New York Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who spent the past three seasons as Tavares’ teammate in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights, scored third goal of the season on Saturday night in a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Del Zotto leads all rookies with eight goals in eight games. Tavares has seven, though the Islanders forward has played two fewer games.
“It’s been my dream ever since I can remember to play in the NHL,” said the 19-year-old Del Zotto, who was drafted by the Rangers 20th overall in 2008. “I’ve been working hard. I set my goal to make the team in training camp and it worked out.”
Del Zotto’s power-play goal Saturday came in came in front of 70 friends and family members who were in the crowd. Del Zotto hails from Stouffville, Ont., which is about 40 kilometres northeast of centre ice at Air Canada Centre.
“It’s good to be home,” said the six-foot-one, 195-pound Del Zotto. “It’s special to play in Toronto. It’s great to get a win, and to score a goal here is the cherry on top.
“I didn’t (promise friends and family that I’d score), but I got one so it worked out pretty nice. It’s special for them and special for me.”
The goal was Del Zotto’s sixth point on the power play, putting him among the league leaders in that category, and his eight points son not only leads all rookies, but is tied for the most points among all NHL defencemen.
“I have to thank my teammates and the coaching staff for helping me along,” Del Zotto said. “We’ve got two solid veterans in (Wade) Redden and (Michal) Rozsival who have really showed me the way. And it’s good to have a few guys around my own age, too, to learn the ropes with.”
The Rangers have another high-end rookie defenceman in Matt Gilroy, who captured the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey last season, while 22-year-old Marc Staal is entering his third NHL campaign.
“With (Del Zotto) and Gilroy, the offence is a big part of their game,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “That’s part of the reason why they’re here, they’re both good on the power play.”