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Michael Del Zotto growing into critical role on Flyers’ blueline

Michael Del Zotto only has one assist though eight games on the Philadelphia Flyers’ blueline in 2015-16, but the former Ranger has become an integral part of the team’s defense corpse. Playing against the team’s top line every night, Del Zotto has been averaging a whopping 23:51 of ice time this season and has been played a key role on the Flyers penalty kill, which got off to a red hot start this season. Del Zotto is averaging almost two more minutes per game this season than he did in his first year with Philadelphia in 2014-15 and is playing some of the best defensive hockey of his career.

Del Zotto was at a dead-end his career when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him at the end of the 2014 season. After exploding for 41 points and establishing himself as a lethal offensive defenseman with the New York Rangers in 2011-12, Del Zotto went spiraling downwards in the following years, earning the nickname “Del Zaster” in the process. He managed just six goals in the following two years, which included a trade that sent him to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Kevin Klein. Del Zotto was often a healthy scratch in Nashville and found himself going nowhere fast. Considering he had just turned 24-years-old, the Flyers decided to give him a chance.

What could wrong in signing a former 10-goal-scorer to a one-year contract worth $1.3 million? It was a decent gamble at a cheap price. Boy did the gamble every pay off. Del Zotto excelled in his first season with the Flyers, finishing seventh in team scoring with 32 points and matching a career high with 10 goals. Never hesitating to jump into the rush, Del Zotto re-discovered that offensive touch that made him so successful in the first few years of his NHL career. MDZ delivered in the clutch for Philadelphia, notching a whopping four game-winning goals – third most among all NHL defensemen. He went from a hated man to a fan favorite in just a year’s time. What a story.

What Del Zotto needed was a fresh start. He needed a new team in a new city where the fans and management believed in him. Enter Philadelphia. It was a rocky start at first, with Craig Berube designating Del Zotto a healthy scratch at times earlier in the season, but soon enough, Berube realized the 24-year-old was one of the best defenseman on the team. He was averaging over 24:00 of ice time down the final stretch of the season and now with the team under Dave Hakstol, Del Zotto has become one of the Flyers’ most trusted blueliners at both ends of the ice.

Del Zotto will start producing offensively sooner than later, but it’s strong defensive play that should have fans excited. The 25-year-old has dished out 23 hits and has helped the Flyers get past the Blackhawks, Rangers and Bruins in the early going of the season. He’s looked good on the power play, and with the offensive talent the Flyers have up front, it’s only a matter of time before he starts showing up more frequently on the scoresheet.

While Mark Streit mans the point on the top power-play unit, Del Zotto is the quarterback of the second unit, racking up eight points with the man advantage in 2014-15. The former Ranger was a solid two-way blueliner for the Flyers last year – never afraid to join and the rush and crease offensive opportunities. Del Zotto averaged 21:55 of ice time in his first year with Philadelphia and continues to grow into a larger role with the team. The Flyers may have some budding defensive prospects in their system, but they are still a few years away from being NHL-ready, so expect Del Zotto to once again be a key offensive contributor from the back-end as the season wears on.

With a few promising defensive prospects on the rise and Del Zotto still very young, the Flyers blueline is finally starting to look promising.

Brady Trettenero

Brady Trettenero

Writer and social/digital media for Hooked on Hockey Magazine. You can follow me on Twitter @BradyTrett.
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