New York Rangers training camp is inching closer and several young players will get a chance to prove that they’re ready to compete at the highest level consistently. For Dylan McIlrath, this is his first real opportunity to win himself a spot in the top-six and make an impact as a pro. For him to have success, he will need to be sound in his end, reasonable with his passing and also be the man who steps in to protect teammates in the ugly games.
The best part of McIlraths’ game is his ability to shut plays down in the defensive zone. He uses his big frame to stop cycles and he’s got a quick stick to chop down passes and pressure the puck. McIlrath is the only Rangers defender who can play with that edge on defense to clear the net and battle the heavy teams in the corners. Last season the defender played in 34 regular season games and he threw more hits per game on average than any other Rangers defender.
Moving the Puck
The days of the monster that can’t move on defense are gone in the NHL — that means that McIlrath will need to continue to grow on the offensive side of the puck. The grizzly defender has good vision and puck control for a player of his size and overall makeup, but an area that can always win fans over is his ability to shoot the puck. To put it simply McIlrath has a bomb of a slapshot, so if he could put himself in positions to put it towards the net he may be able to compete for a spot on the second power-play unit, which could boost his overall value to the organization. If there’s one things the Rangers need it’s a righty who’s willing to shoot.
At the moment his biggest competition on the roster is coming from guys like Adam Clendening and Nick Holden, both of whom are somewhat smooth with the puck. The Ranger’s aren’t expecting McIlrath to step in for Keith Yandle as a big time puck mover, but they will be expecting their entire defense to be able to move the puck to the speedy core of forwards.
The 24-year old is most well known for his abilities with the gloves off, and this attribute may be key in helping him earn a full-time gig in the NHL. As the Rangers stand now, it’s hard to see veteran forward Tanner Glass making the team out of camp. Yes, fighting is diminishing, but it’s certainly still a part of the game. If head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t believe that this element still had some place in the game today, then we wouldn’t have seen Glass deployed in past seasons. One moment that pops out in my mind was the Wayne Simmonds and Ryan McDonagh incident, where Simmonds threw a late punch.
There was tons of talk after this game about what the Rangers would do to stand up for their captain and the next time they played McIlrath took on Simmonds, in a moment that seemed to help galvanize the Rangers.
New York has been taking their time with the development of McIlrath and now appears to be the time for him to start to bear fruit for the organization. The expectation seems to be that he’ll be a bottom four guy, but that’s fine, not every prospect will become a number one defender, in fact very few do. I expect him to be the Rangers tough guy and bottom pairing shutdown defender this year. After this season McIlrath is an RFA again, so his cost shouldn’t rise dramatically for a few more years which is another big bonus; he’s is a good position right now, he just has to make sure he has his best hockey in him come September.