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Switch on defense all about future

Coaching staff wants Del Zotto to improve while also giving McDonagh

Monday, 01.03.2011 / 6:06 PM / News
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Switch on defense all about future

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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Although Monday was a scheduled off day for the Rangers after returning from a difficult road trip late the night before, the team was still busy making a pair of transactions that have important short-term and long-term ramifications for the organization.

Late Monday afternoon, the Rangers announced that defenseman Michael Del Zotto -- an NHL All-Rookie Team member last season -- has been assigned to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Connecticut Whale, and that fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh --one of the organization’s top prospects -- has been recalled from the Whale.

Ryan McDonagh, a former first-round draft pick who was an outstanding shutdown defenseman at the University of Wisconsin, has posted a plus-9 rating over his past 24 games with the Connecticut Whale
“From an organizational -- and coaches’ -- point of view, we have to worry about development plus winning hockey games,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Eventually (Del Zotto) will realize this is good for him. And the bottom line is this is going to be good for him as a player and for us as an organization.”

Del Zotto, who played in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers after being scratched in four straight games, has scored two goals and totaled nine points in 35 games this season with the Rangers. Last year the Rangers’ first round pick in the 2008 draft appeared in 80 games, notching 37 points -- tops among all Blueshirt defensemen.

“We can’t have Michael sitting, not playing games, because we still feel he’s a really big piece to the puzzle,” said Tortorella. “We’ll send him down and get him playing again. I think Michael understands that this is part of the process. But we want to see improvement in his mindset and his play on the ice.”

Tortorella emphasized on Thursday that there is no set timetable for Del Zotto’s return to the NHL. Instead the coach wants the talented youngster to work on specific areas of his game, most notably his decision-making.

To that end, Tortorella said he spoke with Connecticut head coach Ken Gernander earlier on Monday and informed him of the things he wants the Whale coaching staff to work on with Del Zotto.

John Tortorella and the Rangers coaching staff don't want to keep Michael Del Zotto out of game action. He will see lots of ice time in Connecticut.
“We want (Del Zotto) to understand how to think the game and think preparation and also to bring it within his game as far as the minutes he’ll get there,” noted Tortorella.

Although Tortorella is excited to see how McDonagh, 21, has progressed since training camp in his first pro season, he is not guaranteeing a spot in the lineup to the 2007 first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, who came to the Rangers in the 2009 trade involving Scott Gomez. In fact, Tortorella said McDonagh will watch Wednesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes from the Madison Square Garden press box as Matt Gilroy will be reinserted into the lineup to take Del Zotto’s spot.

“McDonagh has grown as a player, and he’s one we are very interested in,” said Tortorella. “Ryan’s coming up does not guarantee him playing in a game. We’re going to have him practice with us. He has improved, from having spoken with the coaches in Connecticut, and we want to take a look at him. But Gilly is going back into the lineup, and Gilly is one of our top six (defensemen) right now.”

McDonagh, who was a teammate of Derek Stepan for two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, has totaled one goal and eight points in 38 games with the Whale this season. He notched five of those points over a recent eight-game stretch from Dec. 11-29.

As for Gilroy, the second year-pro has been commended by both his coach and by his teammates for improving his play and playing with confidence lately after being scratched in eight of 10 games from late November through mid-December.

Gilroy, who has three points while playing in four of the last five games, has scored two goals and assisted on four others in 24 games this season.

“This is an ongoing process of looking at our kids, developing our kids,” said Tortorella. “But right now we feel this six, with Gilly included, gives us the best chance of winning. So Gilly is being inserted back into the lineup on Wednesday.”



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