When the Rangers made their Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein swap with the Predators, they gave up on a frustrating offensive talent and went with the less able but more reliable stay at home, physical type. What they also did was commit to a player whose size and physical ability is likely to be on the Rangers blue line for several seasons. They also committed to someone that inadvertently may be a road block for one of the franchise’s key draft picks, Dylan McIlrath.
While Klein doesn’t possess the same potential snarl or size as McIlrath, the additional four years (at $2.9 million per year) means the Rangers have solidified their third pairing with the type of player they’ve needed for what seems like generations. Is there still room for McIlrath? With his skating ability still his biggest question mark, Mcllrath’s future is at least partly dependent with how Klein acclimatises to New York, with the initial solid performances promising.
With Ryan McDonagh and (barring excessive demands) Dan Girardi entrenched as the minute eating top pair in New York, the return to form of Marc Staal (has he ever been better?), and Anton Stralman as your reliable top four fill-in, there isn’t much room on the blue line. John Moore’s re-emergence back on his natural side means there’s a solid top six in New York without factoring in the merits of McIlrath.
McIlrath also has to contend with the prospects outside of New York. Is he even the Rangers best defensive prospect right now? Conor Allen’s impressive quick stint in New York this season –coupled with a solid rookie year with the Wolf Pack– means Allen may be the next in line, especially as he’s already an NHL level skater. The competition doesn’t stop there. Calle Johansson, Brady Skjei, even Tommy Hughes all still factor into the Rangers thinking. McIlrath faces a potentially uncertain future without even considering potential free agent additions or draft picks.
Even with the presence of Klein, McIlrath represents a unique skill set that the Rangers would love to have patrolling their blue line. But he needs to improve his skating and make himself an undeniable asset. No longer is McIlrath the sole option to resolve the Rangers apparent softness on the blue line. With the coaching change and the subsequent change in emphasis toward a more puck possession, speed orientated game is Mcllrath’s skill set even a priority anymore?
What was a waiting game for the eventual arrival of Dylan McIlrath has become – through no fault of his own – a question as to whether he’ll ever arrive at all. Still a quality talent, the clock’s ticking on Mcllrath’s future, partly thanks to the arrival of Kevin Klein.