Finally, Dylan Dilemma is Resolved

Despite their ugly home-ice loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, so much has gone right for the New York Rangers during their 10-4-0 sprint out of the gate this season.

It speaks to how well things have gone that the Rangers biggest issue has been what exactly to do with the eighth-best defenseman in the organization. With the trade Tuesday of Dylan McIlrath to the Florida Panthers, in exchange for fellow blueliner Steven Kampfer, the Rangers have now crossed the Dylan Dilemma off their short list of concerns.

So what affect will this trade have on the parties involved? Let’s take a look.

A Fresh Opportunity

McIlrath admitted he was “frustrated” last season when, as a rookie, he was often passed over for playing time in favor of struggling veterans Dan Girardi and Dan Boyle, the former of whom was playing with a myriad of injuries including a fractured kneecap. That frustration gave way to greater disappointment this year when McIlrath was passed on the depth chart by newcomer Adam Clendening and rookie Brady Skjei, ultimately being placed on waivers last week after appearing in only one game with the Blueshirts.

So this trade clearly gives the former first round pick a second chance in the National Hockey League; and at the age of 24, the best of Dylan McIlrath is clearly ahead.

“I’m sad to leave the Rangers, but super excited for this new opportunity,” McIlrath told me Tuesday night.

With the Panthers, McIlrath will no longer be the disappointing tenth overall selection from the 2010 draft, a player selected ahead of Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Kevin Hayes, and Nick Bjugstad in the first round. He will get a fresh opportunity, carrying far less baggage in Florida than he did in New York.

When he cleared waivers, assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack a week ago, McIlrath admitted to me that he had “mixed emotions” about not being claimed by another National Hockey League team.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the NHL,” stated McIlrath, who appeared in a grand total of 38 career games with the Rangers. “While it’s weird to think of one day playing for another team, my goal is to play in the NHL, and I still very much believe in myself.”

Now he has an opportunity with a new team. Let’s see where he goes with it.

Where’s the Fit in Florida?

The Panthers have played 13 games so far this season, and five of their top six defensemen have appeared in each one of those. The sixth of those defenders, 22 year-old rookie Michael Matheson, has missed just one game, leading to Kampfer’s only NHL appearance this season.

So where does this leave McIlrath? It would seem he remains an extra defenseman, albeit seventh on the depth chart and with an NHL job as opposed to further down the list in New York while playing in the minor leagues.

Aaron Ekblad, still only 20 years of age, is a franchise cornerstone and future Norris Trophy contender. Alex Petrovic and Matheson, both 24 years-old, are former first round picks of the Panthers. Mark Pysyk, also 24,  was a first-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in the same 2010 draft in which McIlrath was chosen 13 picks before by the Rangers and was acquired in a trade this past off-season. Veterans Keith Yandle and Jason Demers were both high-profile free agent pick ups in July.

Barring injury, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of playing time in Florida for McIlrath, who had his most success in New York while paired with Yandle last season . The Panthers defense is young, mobile, and pretty solid at both ends of the rink. Matheson has developed slowly as a Panthers prospect, and was a minus three last week in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, so perhaps McIlrath gets some playing time at his expense.

Still, Matheson is a home-grown Panther, a former first rounder. He will get the benefit of the doubt before McIlrath, one would think.

The Rangers Move On

It is no secret that Alain Vigneault, New York’s head coach, did not have full faith in McIlrath’s abilities, even after he played pretty well in extended stints a year ago when Kevin Klein and Ryan McDonagh were missing from the lineup due to injury. So the Rangers simply move on from a player that really was not a good fit for the coach’s up-tempo fast-paced style of play.

“We’re trying to play a little more aggressive and speedy game,” explained general manager Jeff Gorton. “It probably doesn’t help Dylan that we’ve got some other guys a little more defensive. Those roles are kind of taken. It’s a style of play issue now, we’re more uptempo, and that’s not Dylan’s game.”

What is not so simple is the Rangers swung and missed with their first round selection in the 2010 draft. That becomes more magnified when considering the Blueshirts have had only three first-round picks over the past seven years.

As for now, the Rangers have seven defensemen playing well at the NHL level. Kampfer, who has 134 games of NHL experience, provides a right-handed shot and ability to play in the league while starting out in Hartford. He’s joined there by a very solid group of d-men, headed by youngsters Ryan Graves, John Gilmour, Mat Bodie and Michael Paliotta, and bolstered by another veteran in Chris Summers.