Whatever it takes. Whatever they need.
That’s Pasquale Zito’s hockey mantra to his teams and his coaches.
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) July 24, 2021
“I’m a very emotional player,” explained Zito, 18, picked 166th overall by the Red Wings in the 2021 NHL entry draft. “I bring a lot of heart to the game. I’m a two-way player. I work well in both ends. A team-first guy.
“I work hard in practice, game, it doesn’t matter the situation. I like to crash the net, I like to shoot. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the coach needs on the team, I’m the type of player that can fill all types of roles on the team.”
If he makes it, Zito wouldn’t be the first player to go against the odds to make a lengthy NHL career out of his type of game.
Hall of Famer Pat Quinn once remembered what it was like to be a longshot hopeful with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At training camp in 1968, he sat in a room, surrounding by veteran players who’d recently won the Stanley Cup and listened as coach Punch Imlach expained his dilemma.
Imlach noted that the Leafs were blessed with abundance of skill players. “What we need,” Imlach continued, “is a lunkhead.”
Quinn immediately raised his right hand in the air.
“Oh, me sir,” Quinn shouted at Imlach.
Quinn made the Leafs that season. Now, no one is saying that Windsor Spifires left wing Vito is going to come to camp this fall and make the Red Wings.
Let’s also be clear on this as well – we’re not suggesting he is a lunkhead.
Down the road, though, Zito could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Detroit depth chart.
“He’s an energetic right-shot that plays with pace, quick feet and a tenacious forechecker,” assessed Dan Stewart of Draft Prospects Hockey. “He has solid playmaking ability but is not overly creative, transitions the puck quickly, plays with some bite, is willing to drop the mitts, and battles hard for positioning and pucks.”
The 6-foot, 175-pound Zito projects out to be a bottom-six type forward, one capable of chipping in the odd goal, being a physical presence and someone who is difficult to play against.
Currently, those types of forwards are in short supply in Detroit. There’s Tyler Bertuzzi, Adam Erne and if he makes the team, Givani Smith.
Zito, who lists Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk as the type of player he’d one day like to be, fits into this mold. “He wants to be a hard player to play against,” Wings director of amateur scouting Kris Draper said of Zito. “He wants to compete against the other team’s top players, he wants to make a tough net-front presence. Those are the things you like.
“When you interview a player and they start talking about ‘My favorite players are the Tkachuks’ it kind of puts a smile on your face. I let him know that’s not easy to do what they do every night and he just kind of smiled.”
No Season To Play
Should Zito ultimately make the NHL grade, he’ll also have some story to tell. He didn’t play a single second of organized hockey during his draft year. The OHL season was scuttled by COVID-19. Zito was limited to games of shinny with other out-of-options hockey prospects in his hometown of Ottawa.
“It’s been frustrating that everyone else in the world got to play pretty much besides the Ontario Hockey League,” Zito said. “It’s tough. You’ve always dreamed of playing your NHL year to kind of showcase your skill and how much you’ve improved over your first year. I didn’t get the opportunity to.
“It’s frustrating but I’m quite honored to be selected by such a great organization. I can’t thank Detroit enough for trusting me. I hope to show one day that I’m biggest surprise in this draft and I know I can do so.”