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Rangers send Michael del Zotto to minors, call up Ryan McDonagh

Jan 3, 2011, 8:00 PM EDT

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While his -20 rating indicated that maybe he wasn’t excelling in every area, New York Rangers defenseman Michael del Zotto exceeded most – if not all – expectations as a rookie in the 2009-10 season. He scored nine goals and 28 assists for 37 points in 80 lat season, putting up the kind of numbers that above average veteran offensive defenseman tend to generate.

But much like Calder Trophy winning Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, Del Zotto hasn’t been able to match his rookie year with an equal encore performance. His offensive game is stagnating a bit (two goals and seven assists for nine points and -1 rating in 35 contests), but the real problems seem to be his defensive play and maybe even his conditioning.

Some people think that the Rangers might have rushed the 20-year-old blueliner into the NHL after hearing news that the team demoted him to the AHL in exchange for 21-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News reports that Rangers coach John Tortorella said that there is no timetable regarding Del Zotto’s stay in the AHL, saying that the team hopes to see an improvement in his preparation for games along with his in-game performance.

It sounds like Del Zotto wasn’t very happy with the demotion, but at his young age, he has plenty of time to improve his overall game.

In a conference call just now, Tortorella said that there is no timetable for Del Zotto’s stay in the AHL, as “we want to see the improvement in him, and that will give him the opportunity to get back here. … It’s seeing improvement, in mindset and play on the ice. Him understanding how to think the game, and think preparation, and also bring it to within his game as far as the minutes he gets there.”

In addition to the mental part of Del Zotto’s game needing work, Tortorella expressed some concern over his conditioning, as one of the games Del Zotto was scratched for was officially as a result of a groin injury after the Christmas break.

It might be too simple to call what has happened to Del Zotto a “sophomore slump,” but really, isn’t that what it is? He came into the league at 19 last season and exceeded expectations. This season, the expectations were much higher as a result, and he has wound up struggling, which can then feed on itself a bit.

“I think Michael understands this is part of the process,” Tortorella said. “Sometimes players might not agree with it, but it’s not up to the player. My conference call with (Glen Sather, Jim Schoenfeld) and myself today, we talked about what’s best for Michael and what’s best for the team. We wanted to give him a chance (last night), and see how he responded. I just don’t think he’s right. … This is a 20-year-old kid, and sometimes they don’t see it there right now, but eventually he’s going to realize this is good for him. It’s going to be good for him as a player and good for us as an organization.”

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