Alain Vigneault commented after the Rangers’ turgid performance in Tampa on Monday that “Nobody touched a soul”, referring to his team’s lack of physicality. This has been an underlying issue for large parts of the season so far. In the mean time, Michael Del Zotto continues to be, at best, inconsistent (and the subject of countless traded rumours in the media) and John Moore also has yet to find his game consistently. As you can see, there is plenty of room for improvement on the blueline.
While the Rangers forward unit appears to be more settled with the demotion of JT Miller (who simply needs playing time at this stage), despite the relatively decent performance of the blueline corps, the Rangers appear in need of an injection of physicality. Is it about time they took a look at Dylan McIlrath?
Mcllrath’s development curve is trending in the right direction. While in Hartford the big, bruising 1st round pick has begun to add an offensive dimension to his game but perhaps more appropriate is that he also leagues the American Hockey League in penalty minutes (with 102 penalty minutes in just 18 games) and if you check the box scores regularly enough, you’ll have noticed a few majors along the way.
McIlrath has become the predominant physical presence for a young Hartford team and his style is certainly something that the Rangers could do with adding. Whether the Del Zotto rumours become more than a rumour will likely also depend on Mcllrath’s apparent readiness for the big club. We have seen prospects rushed recently (see Kreider and now Miller) but we have also seen prospects jump in and contribute immediately (Stepan, Hagelin and most recently Talbot).
At this stage, the Rangers need to try Dylan McIlrath. They need him to be ready and they need to be a more physical team. The Rangers won’t out-skill the likes of Pittsburgh, Washington or even Tampa. They won’t outmuscle Boston or out-skate Montreal but this team can have a little bit of everything. That’s what makes the Rangers a potential contender.
Throwing McIlrath in on the blueline should give Lundqvist and co. more protection and make other teams think twice about holding on to the puck for too long. McIlrath would also likely be more than happy to make the likes of Brad Stuart answer the bell if they continue to take liberties with the Rangers’ star players. It’s been a while since Del Zotto added anything of note to the blueline. It’s time to look at Dylan McIlrath and what he brings.