Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Record Setting End

You knew it was going to end up this way, Michael Del Zotto's season came to an end on Wednesday night as his London Knights lost in overtime 4-3 to the Windsor Spitfires. The loss eliminates the Knights from the playoffs as they dropped this series 4-1 but to be honest the series ended for the Knights in game 1.

We say that because the Knights had the Spitfires on the ropes leading in Game 1 3-1 but could not keep the lead. Hold the lead there and this series went in an entirely different direction.

As has been the case for the Knights, the downfall was the two goal lead as London led in this one 2-0 before Windsor came back to tie the game. In this series there were 7 different 2 or more goal leads that got blown by both teams but other than Game 2 London could never come back.

For Del Zotto the end has to be a very big disappointment as his goal this season was that OHL championship. At the same time while Del Zotto ended his season scoreless in his final game there were a lot of positives for us to take from his playoff season.

We start with his offensive numbers as Del Zotto did deliver going 3-16-19 +8 in 14 playoff games. It would have been nice to see more goals but we liked how Del Zotto put up clutch points during the first 2 playoff series this year.

We liked that Del Zotto did cut down on his defensive mistakes and tried to become a more physical player. It was not always perfect and Del Zotto remains very much a work in progress but the effort and desire are there.

Over the summer, it is expected that Del Zotto will sign his entry level contract with the Rangers but the odds are very much stacked against Del Zotto making the jump to the Rangers next fall. The number one reason is that despite all his improvements on defense, Del Zotto still needs a lot of polishing to his entire game.

There is no question that on offense alone that Del Zotto has the skills to make it to the NHL but he would not survive long under the Tortorella system at his current defensive skill level. A full season under Dale Hunter would very much aid in Del Zotto's development just like Evgeny Grachev improved under Stan Butler at Brampton.

There are a lot of great reasons why Del Zotto should return to London next season besides playing for Dale Hunter. One is that Del Zotto will get a chance to show the rest of the hockey world that he is a very good player in his own right once he can escape the shadows of his friend John Tavares.

Another is that Del Zotto in our eyes deserves an invite to play for Team Canada in the World Under 20 Championships next year. Those who know Del Zotto know he is a solid player but because he has played on teams with better known teammates, Del Zotto gets forgotten.

A third is the Gordie Clark belief about dominating at a level before advancing to the next which we very much believe in since it has paid dividends for the Rangers over the last few years (Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan just to namedrop). The prospect who dominated was able to make the smoother transition to his next level and that is what we want to see from Del Zotto.

Del Zotto's 13-50-63 as a defenseman happens to be good numbers but come next season we think he will blow those numbers away if he can remain healthy.


With the elimination of Del Zotto that means just Evgeny Grachev and Tysen Dowzak are left playing with only Grachev as a serious hope to earn a trip the Memorial Cup. Grachev and the Brampton Battalion are up 3-1 in their series with the Belleville Bulls while Dowzak and the Kelowna Rockets trail the Vancouver Giants 2-1.

Even if Kelowna can find a way to defeat Vancouver we do not think anyone is going to stop the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL. At least in Grachev's case, the Battalion have a shot at Windsor mainly because they have the more experienced team.

We will find out starting on Thursday evening.

(Del Zotto courtesy of Stu Switzer)

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