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Tuesday Tire Pump: Michael Del Zotto

Dec 27, 2011, 1:55 PM EDT

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Michael Del Zotto Getty Images

Every Tuesday at PHT, we’ll pump a player’s tire. Because every player likes it when nice things are said about them.

This week’s tire pumpee: Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers

After suffering through a textbook sophomore slump, the 21-year-old has regained the form that made him a candidate for rookie of the year in 2009-10. Check that, he’s better than he was in his first NHL season.

After 34 games, Del Zotto leads all Rangers defensemen with 21 points, and he leads the team with a remarkable plus-25 rating.

Those stats are even more impressive when you consider he was sent down to the AHL less than a year ago.

“Everything about him is different this season,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Times. “His passes are crisper. His battle level is like we’d never seen before. He’s playing a lot more physically. You have to remember, he is still a very young player, especially for a defenseman. But there’s no question he’s a more confident player.”

Del Zotto’s bounce-back has meant even more for the Rangers in the absence of Marc Staal, as coach John Tortorella has been able to play the young blueliner 22:42 per game.

“He’s learning what it takes to be a pro,” Tortorella told the Times. “He’s on the right road.”

Michael Del Zotto, everyone.

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