The Rangers drafted Dylan McIlrath 10th overall in 2010 and ever since, media and fans have been waiting for his arrival. While McIlrath is now completely healthy and at Rangers camp looking to make the team there doesn’t appear space in the defensive unit even though his style is an absolute need.
The Rangers are blessed with a strong top four when Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are all fit and able. With Anton Stralman a solid depth option it leaves a whole raft of ifs and buts to scrap it out for the 6th and 7th defensive spots. McIlrath will be fighting it out with Aaron Johnson, Danny Syvret, Justin Falk, John Moore and even the likes of Stu Bickel for a roster spot.
The problem here is not ability. John Moore aside, McIlrath has much more upside than any of the other options who are realistically in the frame for the top six. McIlrath needs game time. The Rangers top four will eat up the vast majority of ice time and given his lengthy absence last year the last thing the Rangers want to do to with McIlrath is curb – or stall – his development by offering up five or six minute cameos.
McIlrath probably needs to outperform the likes of Stralman and Del Zotto and not the depth guys if he is to make the Rangers. McIlrath will have to be an absolute force through camp and pre-season because merely being ‘ready’ isn’t going to be enough. If he is ready for a depth assignment he should be in Hartford. If he is ready for a significant role – which is unlikely at this stage – then he could factor into the Rangers. McIlrath needs twenty minutes a night.
As is often the case with players of his style and size, patience is required even if it feels like the wait has been forever. If it means the Rangers receive a dominant, intimidating presence for the next half a decade, a full season knocking players over in the minor leagues is the right course action for Dylan McIlrath.