McIlrath Demotion Signals Change in Philosophy

New York Rangers defenseman Dylan McIlrath was put on waivers on October 27th and cleared the following day at noon. Seeing the team put the former 10th overall pick in a position to be claimed by any organization in the league is an example of how serious the Rangers are about revamping their identity.

After a tough exit from the 2015-16 season, the organization made it very clear that they were looking to change the look of this team. From the top by trading players like Derick Brassard to the bottom by waiving players like Tanner Glass. The team has new blood in all parts of the roster.

At the start of camp McIlrath seemed like he would resume his role as the seventh man for this team with the potential to grab the sixth spot on defense, but his game just never jumped off the page. McIlrath’s fall down the depth chart seemed to have more to do with the strong play of newcomers Nick Holden and Adam Clendening than it had to do with McIlrath’s struggles. The simple fact is that the big defender from Winnipeg is a stay-at-home defender whose best assets aren’t in the puck moving department.

With the team having just lost offensive minded defenders like Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle over the offseason, it was clear that the team would need some guys who could move the puck and skate with some grace; roles that are much more suited to Holden and Clendening. So from the start, McIlrath was fighting an uphill battle.

The New Rangers

The word that’s always being thrown around when talking about the Rangers this season is speed. Not only does the team skate well, but they also move the puck very quickly. Sadly for McIlrath, these are attributes that he lacks. This team likes to get the puck and move it to their forwards with a crisp and clean breakout pass, where McIlrath is the kind of player who will simply send the puck to safety and not take unnecessary chances.

What the burly defender does bring are passion and grit. With him off the roster, the Rangers for the first time under head coach Alain Vigneault, don’t have anyone on the team who is designated to fight and bruise. The whole idea of having a “fighter” is that his presence will make the opposition think twice about taking liberties with star players. The other deterrent that teams have used over the years is to combat chippy play is by having a good power play. The Rangers seem to have chosen the latter, as they currently have no fighting majors and a power play that’s clicking at 25.9%, which is a respectable number. If the unit can keep dealing the puck around like this it will be very hard to take foolish penalties against the Rangers; and if they are going to sustain such a power-play they will need creative puck movers like Clendening in the lineup.

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Hope for McIlrath?

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

It certainly seems like the big defender is on his way out of the Rangers organization, but that doesn’t mean his career is over in the NHL. If he can play a solid and gritty role in the American Hockey League, he could make himself an option for another team looking to take a chance on a strong young defender. He’s still 24-years-old, responsible in his defensive zone and capable of battling against the toughest of opponents. The Rangers are getting away from nasty hockey. That doesn’t mean that teams like the Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames don’t see the value in personal grit. If McIlrath can play well in the AHL, teams will notice, so perhaps he could get claimed later or moved at the trade deadline.

A bonus with McIlrath is that he has a terrific slap shot.

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My Take

McIlrath was loved by fans, as tough guys usually are. He had an epic battle with Brian McGrattan as a rookie that left fans impressed and then showed just how dedicated he was to his team when he dropped the gloves with Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers as a result of Simmonds sucker-punching Ryan McDonagh.

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He tried his best to be what the organization was asking him to be, but it was asking him to be someone he’s not. I feel like the real signal that he was on the outside in New York was when he attacked Tomas Hertl in front of the Rangers net earlier in the month against the San Jose Sharks. He threw his gloves off and threw some heavy shots at the winger and ended up taking a foolish penalty in a one-goal game. In the third period of that game, he hardly touched the ice.

Even though he didn’t get much ice-time in the NHL, he will get plenty with the Hartford Wolfpack and hopefully he can find another route to being a full-time player.