If you were expecting to read this headline four games into the season, you're either a liar, or you should go buy a lottery ticket.
For all the talk of the Blue Jackets' vaunted first pairing and rugged second pairing, Michael Del Zotto has been the Blue Jackets' best defenseman so far this season, and it's not particularly close.
When the Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, $700K contract after he impressed in training camp, they were taking a very small risk. The worst-case scenario was that he would provide defensive depth as the seventh or eight defenseman on the roster. The best case scenario?
It's safe to say we're experiencing it. Through four games, Del Zotto has registered three assists to go along with a +4 plus-minus rating. The next highest on the team is Alexandre Texier at +1. The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn sums up it well:
bit of a rough start to that norris campaign huh— dom luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) January 20, 2021
*immediately gets pelted by thousands of tomatoes from the city of columbus* pic.twitter.com/mYpewPVwxd
Using Luszczyszyn's Game Score model, which you can read more about here, we can see that Del Zotto has been the best and most consistent skater for Columbus thus far. Way down there at the bottom of the list? That's Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, who, according to the model, have been the two weakest links for the Blue Jackets this season.
Del Zotto has been fantastic at creating chances, but the Blue Jackets have struggled to finish those chances. There is one player who has benefitted significantly from Del Zotto's strong play and has put together some good games himself: Dean Kukan, who comes in at third in Luszczyszyn's model. Kukan and Del Zotto have been an excellent pair, and their play continues to hold out Andrew Peeke, who many thought would be an everyday defenseman for the Blue Jackets this year.
When Del Zotto played for John Tortorella in New York from 2009 to 2013, he registered 24-86-110 in 250 games. That's 0.44 points per game. After Tortorella left New York, Del Zotto averaged .31 points per game from 2014-2019. It looks like another season under Tortorella may be helping Del Zotto find his offensive game again.