The date was June 25, 2010 and the New York Rangers held the 10th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Instead of going with some more notable names like Cam Fowler, Jack Campbell, Brandon Gormley or Emerson Etem, Gordie Clark and co. went off the board with the hulking, bruising and nasty Dylan McIlrath. He was considered a project at the time, but would be the stay-at-home, crease-clearing defenseman the organization coveted so badly.
Fast forward three years to the present. McIlrath has yet to crack the team, but may be as poised as ever to do so this September.
Dylan McIlrath says "I think I have a legitimate shot" of making Rangers out of training camp. "The knee is not an excuse anymore."
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) July 1, 2013
The knee being the dislocation suffered last summer at the Rangers' prospect camp by Kyle Jean. It took a year out of McIlrath's development, but it hasn't stopped him for working his tail off in his recovery. With the Rangers going in a different direction under new head coach Alain Vigneault, a bruiser himself in his brief NHL stint, McIlrath's physical intangibles could be needed on the backline.
It's no secret the Rangers drafted McIlrath with Jeff Beukeboom in mind. The defensive anchor to Brian Leetch during the Rangers' Cup run and hay days turned assistant coach with the Hartford Wolfpack, Beukeboom played a no-nonsense game, stuck up for teammates and dared any opponent to get near his goalie Mike Richter. It's the same desire the Rangers will have with McIlrath and Beukeboom has been his mentor down in the AHL over the past year.
It's also no secret the Rangers hired Ulf Samuelsson to Vigneault's staff this week with McIlrath in mind, as well. Samuelsson was also a tough customer, playing borderline (putting it nicely) dirty in his 16 year NHL career racking up 2,453 PIMs in 1080 career games. The Rangers have lacked that desire to protect their goalie at all costs and, at times, deliver the big hit when needed. Arguably, the team was at their best when they were a tough opponent to play against. Samuelsson' job will be to bring out that desire in his defense and there isn't a better mold to work with than McIlrath.
A lot will need to go right for McIlrath to be on the varsity squad next season. The Rangers, after signing all their RFAs, will have seven defensemen (including recently acquired Justin Falk) for next season. Perhaps a trade is on the horizon since the Blueshirts are tight against the salary cap and have a glut of defensemen. If not, Dylan McIlrath will go into training camp having plenty of competition and needing to prove his skating and foot speed along with his positioning are NHL ready.
It typically takes defensemen to develop longer than other position in hockey. But, it has been three years since the Rangers took a chance drafting Dylan McIlrath. The coaches are in place to help him succeed at the next level.
His time in the NHL is now.
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