Where would the Canucks be without Michael Del Zotto?
And no, I’m not talking about DJ MDZ’s influence on the dressing room music.
How we do. 💪 pic.twitter.com/MqhnuYYBND
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) November 8, 2017
Through 15 games, the Canucks (8-5-2) have been a nice surprise this season, despite long-term injuries to Alex Edler, Troy Stecher, and Loui Eriksson. They also haven’t had much production from Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
A Canucks team excelling without everything going right? That was unfathomable just a month ago.
But while Vancouver’s young players have received much of the press, Del Zotto has quietly put together an impressive season.
After the Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin to the KHL and Luca Sbisa to the expansion draft, suddenly the team needed a defenceman. GM Jim Benning turned to free agency, signing Del Zotto to a two-year contract worth $3 million per year.
The contract – the fourth richest among Canucks defencemen – has been a bargain for the team.
Most obviously, the 27-year-old leads the team in ice time, playing 24:17 per night. A left-side d-man, he’s picked up many minutes that would have been swallowed up by Edler.
That’s not something completely foreign to the 6-foot blueliner, having averaged 23:25 in Philadelphia two years ago.
Del Zotto plays in all situations – power play, penalty kill, even strength – and has already established himself as a leader, wearing an A on his jersey for Saturday’s game against the Penguins.
Perhaps the biggest thing Del Zotto has done is to help make Vancouver’s defence more mobile. Inserting a puck-mover like Del Zotto in place of Sbisa has been massive.
The North York, Ontario native also leads all defencemen on the team in points, with seven. His lone goal this season was a beauty, dangling by a Red Wings defenceman to score the tying goal on Monday.
He ranks high in shots on goal, firing 33 pucks on goal – behind only Ben Hutton among Canucks rearguards.
If there’s one stat that could be concerning, it’s his Corsi (46.38%) which ranks second-last among Canucks defencemen.
Diving a bit deeper though, it may appear that has more to do with his most frequent defence partner, Erik Gudbranson, who is the furthest thing from an analytics darling. Del Zotto’s even strength Corsi-For percentage is a paltry 39.06% when paired with Gudbranson, but 55.17% when paired with anyone else.
Del Zotto has played 100:49 with Gudbranson, 53:43 with Chris Tanev, and 32:58 with Troy Stecher.
Head coach Travis Green should have some intriguing options if he can ever get a healthy defence back intact. Del Zotto has shown well with Tanev, which could mean allowing Edler to reunite with Troy Stecher on a pretty nice second pair.
Speaking of injuries, that’s something Del Zotto will want to avoid himself. His season-high in games played over the last four years is just 67.
If he can stay healthy, he should quietly continue to bolster a Canucks blue line that has surprised more than a few observers this season.