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

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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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

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    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

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    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

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    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

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    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.