Michael Del Zotto

Michael Del Zotto wants to be the defensive spark plug the Rangers need

Two seasons ago, defenseman Michael Del Zotto surprised Rangers fans by making the team out of training camp. In his rookie season, Del Zotto was able to be an offensive helper on the blue line scoring nine goals and adding 28 assists. With that kind of point production from a then 19 year-old defenseman, the future seemed to be very bright for both Del Zotto and the Rangers.

As will happen on occasion to young players, they run into problems in their sophomore season and Del Zotto fell on hard times for sure. Del Zotto struggled defensively and lost his touch on offense leading to him being sent to AHL Connecticut after 47 games. In that time, Del Zotto had just two goals and nine assists and didn’t show the necessary improvement defensively for coach John Tortorella to keep him in the lineup. While the Rangers got solid play from Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Michael Sauer they lacked that offensive touch from the blue line and acquired Bryan McCabe to help out late in the year and in the playoffs.

Heading into camp this year, McCabe is gone and Del Zotto has lessons learned after spending part of the season in the AHL as well as having his season ended early thanks to a broken finger. As Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants shares, Del Zotto wants to prove he belongs in Manhattan this season and can bring some of that scoring touch back to their blue line.

“I’m pretty self-motivated,” Del Zotto added. “Especially after last year. This is a huge year for me. I’m all business.”

Del Zotto said the aim is to bring back the swagger he had as a rookie while not making the repeated on-ice mistakes he made last season (long, bad passes), not to mention correct some off-ice mistakes (no doubt, stay on the right side of being confident, as coach John Tortorella might put it). “I’m not going to be given ice time because of what I did my rookie year on the power play.”

Del Zotto knowing his place coming into camp will help him more than anything. Knowing that Tortorella already has a bunch of guys he feels comfortable with on the blue line means he knows he’s going to have to prove his worth. Del Zotto has the skills to be a very good offensive defenseman and at 21 years-old he’s plenty young to keep growing into his position and still has plenty to learn.

As it is, the Rangers set up with virtually the same guys they had last season on defense. Staal, Girardi, Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, and Steve Eminger are all back meaning there’s an opening in the top six for someone to grab on to. Del Zotto will be in the hunt as will summer rookie trade acquisition Tim Erixon with fellow youngster Brendan Bell with an outside shot.

The Rangers will be looking to up their offensive output this season with Brad Richards now in town to help spur that on. If Del Zotto can harness that offensive touch he had in his rookie season and pair that up with smarter play and defensive responsibility, he can help the Rangers establish themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers at Bruins in the ’15 Thanksgiving Showdown

Ryan McDonagh, Brad Marchand
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The Boston Bruins are hosting the New York Rangers in this year’s Thanksgiving Showdown on NBC — but if you’re unable to watch on TV, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

You can watch the game online via NBC Sports’ Live Extra. Coverage begins just prior to puck drop at 1 p.m. ET.

For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in goal, looking for redemption after he got the hook in his last outing, a 5-1 drubbing against Montreal.

Boston will counter with Tuukka Rask, who stopped 39 of 42 shots in his last start — a win over Toronto on Monday.

While their starting goalie remains the same from the Habs loss, the Blueshirts will make chances elsewhere. On defense, Dylan McIlrath draws in for Dan Boyle while at forward, Emerson Etem with take Viktor Stalberg‘s spot.

For the Bruins, Kevan Miller — the defenseman that’s missed the last four games with an upper-body injury — could draw back into the lineup. Miller practiced this week and appears primed to skate in a pairing with Dennis Seidenberg.

Replacing Beauchemin with Bieksa hasn’t worked out so great for Anaheim

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Are the Anaheim Ducks missing Francois Beauchemin more than they thought they might?

It’s a question we’ve been hearing more and more lately, as the Ducks’ goal-scoring woes of October have been replaced by defensive issues in November.

Anaheim is 3-4-2 in its last nine games. The Ducks have allowed 27 goals in regulation during that stretch — that’s three per game on average — plus two more in a pair of overtime losses.

In a related story, per the O.C. Register, here’s what coach Bruce Boudreau said the other day about offseason acquisition Kevin Bieksa:

“He’s a veteran guy that has to fight his way out of this. We count on him to not make mistakes. We will go as far as guys like him take us.”

Bieksa, 34, is minus-7 in his last four games combined. True, he’s forced to play a lot of hard minutes against good players. But then, that’s exactly what he was brought in to do. The Ducks even gave him a two-year, $8 million extension, locking him up through 2017-18.

Now consider what Boudreau said during last year’s playoff run, about the guy Bieksa was brought in to replace:

“He’s the voice. Everybody else is so young. [He] is the voice back there.”

And Beauchemin was more than just a talker. He led the Ducks in ice time. He had nine assists in 16 playoff games. Bottom line: he was a big part of a team that fell one win shy of making the Stanley Cup Final.

Beauchemin, of course, signed a three-year deal with Colorado on July 1, for a cap hit of $4.5 million. So far, he’s been as advertised for the Avs. The 35-year-old has two goals and 10 assists. He gets the most ice time on the team, an average of 23:33.

Looking back, Anaheim GM Bob Murray never did want to lose Beauchemin. The Ducks just weren’t prepared to offer what the Avs did.

“Beauch’ has been a pretty good warrior for us,” Murray said in June. “He has a one-time chance for free agency and maybe somebody will give him $5 million.… I couldn’t do that.”

One has to wonder now if Murray wishes he’d found a way.

The Ducks host the Blackhawks tonight on NBCSN.

Devils sign veteran Kennedy to one-year, $600K deal

Tyler Kennedy, Lee Stempniak
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A second forward has converted a PTO with New Jersey into a shiny new contract.

Tyler Kennedy, who’s on his second professional tryout with the club, has agreed to a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level, the Devils announced on Friday.

Kennedy, 29, first caught on with the Devils in the preseason, only to be released in early October. He then rejoined the club on a second PTO in mid-November, and earned himself a deal from GM Ray Shero (previously, the two were together in the Pittsburgh organization).

A former 20-goal scorer with the Pens, Kennedy fell on hard times last year. It began in San Jose — where he never fit in Todd McLellan’s plans — and ended on Long Island, where he sat for over half of the Isles’ opening-round playoff loss to the Caps.

As for where he’ll fit in the Devils lineup?

Kennedy said he’s ready to play tonight — the Devils take on Montreal — and it’s possible Stefan Matteau could be scratched, allowing Kennedy to stpe into a bottom-six forward role.

As for how the Devils will free a roster spot — Jiri Tlusty remains on IR with a shoulder issue, while David Schlemko could be away from the club for a bit, as his wife is due to give birth.

Rangers park Boyle, Stalberg in press box for Thanksgiving Showdown

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers - Game Seven
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I’m not going to make the “it really is Black Friday for Dan Boyle and Viktor Stalberg” joke, but had to recognize it as a semi-viable lede.

So that’s out of the way.

Now, onto the business at hand — per the New York Daily News, Boyle and Stalberg will be scratched today when the Rangers take on the Bruins in the annual Thanksgiving Showdown (1 p.m. ET, NBC). Dylan McIlrath will draw in on defense for Boyle, while Emerson Etem will take Stalberg’s spot up front.

It’s not really surprising Alain Vigneault made some lineup changes.

The Blueshirts’ last outing was arguably their worst of the season — a 5-1 home loss to the Canadiens, a game in which Boyle finished minus-2 and Stalberg played the least among all Rangers skaters, with just 11:20 TOI.

More: Dan Boyle isn’t thrilled with all these healthy scratches

What’s more, McIlrath hasn’t played in nearly two weeks (Nov. 15, versus Toronto). It’s been even longer for Etem — he’s been out of the lineup since a win over the Blues on Nov. 12.

Related: Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC