The Florida Panthers entered free agency expecting to add very little as they were $3 million over the cap. However, the team managed to walk away with a surprisingly decent haul, making arguably the blockbuster trade of the offseason with the acquisition of forward Matthew Tkachuk.
Apart from that, they also managed to snag former Ottawa Senators defenseman Michael Del Zotto on a one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000. Let’s find out what he will bring to the Panthers in 2022-23, starting with his history in the NHL.
Del Zotto’s Journeyman Career
Del Zotto was drafted 20th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and dressed for his first NHL game on Oct. 2, 2009, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The very next night, he scored his first NHL goal against the Senators. Then during the 2011-12 season, he got his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he played in 20 games scoring two goals and assisting on eight others while finishing with a minus-4 rating. The following season, he returned to the postseason and notched a goal and an assist along with a minus-3 rating.
Afterwards, Del Zotto spent time with a handful of different organizations including the Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, and finally, the Senators. He’s pretty much hockey’s version of former NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who ended up playing for nine different teams over the course of his career.
In his most recent season, Del Zotto played in 26 games for the Senators, scoring three goals and gathering 10 assists. This past summer, he was bought out of his contract. Through his 12 years in the NHL, he’s piled up 262 points (63 goals, 199 assists) through 736 games along with a minus-30 rating.
So, with his history taken into account, what makes Del Zotto a good fit in Sunrise, Florida?
Del Zotto Can Give the Youth Valuable Lessons
Del Zotto has seen a lot in his 12 years in the NHL, and that includes multiple playoff appearances. With a lot of young defense on the team, such as Matt Kiersted and Lucas Carlsson, he would be the perfect guy to guide them in the right direction.
Not only could Del Zotto help the main roster, but considering his contract is two-way, he could also help out the defensive prospects in the American Hockey League with the Charlotte Checkers. His services may not be needed every night in the NHL, but his impact might be bigger on the organization as a whole.
Del Zotto Could Easily Fill in as a Seventh Defenseman in the Panther Lineup
Of course, the plan is to have the team be healthy through an entire 82-game season. But injuries are unfortunately part of the game and some younger pieces may need to sit out or be sent down to the minors to hone their skills. If one of those were to happen, Del Zotto could easily fill in as a veteran on the back end for the Panthers. In addition, he probably won’t be getting a ton of minutes per night when he does play, as he would more than likely slot in on the third defensive pairing with someone like Brandon Montour.
Del Zotto’s Playoff Experience Would be a Great Help to the Roster
Last season, a lot of the roster struggled to handle the atmosphere of the playoffs, and that included some of their top stars. As a result, they were swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
With someone like Del Zotto, who has a fair amount of playoff experience, he could easily settle things down for players who haven’t done well in the atmosphere or have yet to see it themselves. Even if he doesn’t play any minutes in the postseason, assuming the Panthers get in, the messages he gives should stick with the team as a whole.
What’s Next for Del Zotto and the Panthers?
After the bombshell trade that sent MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames, there may be a chance that Del Zotto gets a larger role on the team. But of course, anything can happen with only three months left to go before the season starts. However, head coach Paul Maurice knows that he has a fair amount of options to plug into the lineup, which should put his mind at ease come the start of training camp. It is unknown how good the defense will be this season, but it just gained some excellent veteran leadership in the well-travelled Del Zotto.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!