GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Michael Del Zotto will return to the lineup Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, but the embattled defenseman appears to have a long way to go in earning coach Alain Vigneault’s favor.
The 23-year-old Del Zotto, a former first-round draft pick and top prospect within the organization, has been scratched the past three games as he fumbles his way through an inconsistent 2013-14 season.
From what Vigneault said after the team’s practice Wednesday, he has thus far failed to live up to the hype.
“I’ve been told that Michael Del Zotto is a much better player than I’ve seen so far,” Vigneault said.
New York Rangers
When Vigneault took over for John Tortorella, he was told Del Zotto was a talented offensive defenseman with plenty of upside and potential. Through 16 games this season, Del Zotto has managed only one goal and three assists.
The past two seasons, Del Zotto has led Rangers defensemen in scoring with 21 points in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and 41 points in 2011-12.
“A player like Michael has to play to his strengths. I’ve been told his strengths are his ability to beat the forecheck, join the rush, help out on the power play, get his shots through,” Vigneault said. “I have not seen that on a consistent enough basis for him to be able to say that he’s going to be in the lineup every night.”
Recently, Vigneault has opted to use rugged blueliner Justin Falk in place of Del Zotto as the sixth defenseman, though he said it’s unfair to the two players because they have such different styles.
“One is supposed to be an offensive-type defenseman, the other is supposed to be a tough, stay-at-home D,” Vigneault explained.
He said the three-game benching was not intended to send a message to Del Zotto; it was his best lineup option available.
“I’m hoping that the next time we talk about Michael," Vigneault said. "I’ll tell you that ‘Yes, I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen him skate, beat the forecheck, join the rush, get his shots through. That’s why he’s playing regularly, that’s why his minutes are up.'”
Pyatt update: Taylor Pyatt, who is still recovering from a concussion sustained during the team’s 4-2 win against the Blue Jackets in Columbus, skated on his own Wednesday morning but did not practice with the team.
Pyatt will not be on the team charter to Dallas, though it appears possible that he will rejoin the club at some point during their five-game road trip.
Vigneault indicated that the 32-year-old winger has made some encouraging progress of late.