With all the hullaballoo (love that word) surrounding Marc Staal’s physical condition, it’s worth pointing out once again the impressive depth the Rangers have at the defense position. Yes, I can hear the replies now of ‘none of them are Marc Staal’. Certainly true, at least at this stage of their careers they are not. However, what is worth noting is that there may not be a franchise in the league right now that could bear the brunt of missing their best blue liner better the Rangers can.
Obviously if Staal misses game time long term it puts a huge dent in the 2011-12 plans of the Rangers. I’d argue that he is just as important as a Gaborik, more important than a Dubinsky, and not far behind the level of importance Lundqvist has on this team. However, the Rangers have a stack of defensemen on the bubble of making the big club (sooner rather than later) that could fill in at least short term, even if it was in a reduced capacity.
Dave pointed out the other day how Pavel Valentenko may be on the roster and not in the AHL due to his contract status. Indeed Valentenko has the physical game and aggressiveness to keep the Rangers blueline nasty and with an appropriate physicality. You have the much discussed, even more anticipated Tim Erixon looking impressive each day, and the potential offensive whiz of Mike Del Zotto still around. Great potential, great depth.
Here’s the wild card in the Staal situation: don’t rule out the Rangers keeping Dylan McIlrath with the club if Staal were to miss some regular season time. It serves a few purposes. The Rangers get a full look at the big kid in ‘real’ NHL action. It gives him invaluable experience and could be done in the bottom pairing with another player moving up. Steve Eminger played admirably in a bigger role for a period last year, so it’s not daunting to think he could be needed to do it again this season even if it isn’t ideal.
Back to Dylan McIlrath. A lot of people may think he’s not NHL ready and he probably isn’t. He wasn’t a dominating presence at Traverse City and he’s not been a name flying off the tongue in camp either. However, when considering this potential opportunity to fill-in for Staal remember John Tortorella’s recent comments about infusing yet more talent in to the line up and further developing the youth. Giving McIlrath a 6-7 game look to begin the year does both. Hey, you may send him back to junior after a spell in NY, but take a look at what you have in the kid. We’ll get some more insight in to McIlrath’s readiness in today’s pre-season opener.
So how about Blake Parlett and Tomas Kundratek? Brendan Bell? Staal’s ‘injury’ scare is unfortunate, potentially crippling if it lingered, but if anything it should act as a carrot to the rest of the defensemen in camp that aren’t assured of a roster spot. In an odd way, the Staal situation could act as a great motivator to the rest and really crank up the competition. Players are playing for an NHL job, even if it’s short term. Once they’re there it’s a chance to stick with the team.
Given that I’m a risk taker, but at the same time an optimist, if the unfortunate scenario of Staal missing game time occurred, I’d give McIlrath a shot while taking a veteran such as Bell to Europe as well. You have the safety blanket of Bell being around but the opportunity to unleash what is (hopefully) a big part of the team’s future in McIlrath. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right?