Is this the last chance for Dylan McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg?

dylan mcilrath oscar lindberg

McIlrath/Lindberg

Before the offseason began, many were penciling Dylan McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg into their October lineups. It makes sense, as the Rangers are in a cap crunch at the moment, and Derek Stepan’s contract could be more expensive than initially anticipated. The Rangers need to save cap space, and two kids on sub-$1 million contracts is a perfect place to make up that cap space. The most popular solutions involved trading Tanner Glass and Kevin Klein, two players who may be too expensive for the roles they play on the team.

But the Rangers appear to be hesitant to trade Klein, and we all know that Glass isn’t going anywhere. So that casts a shadow on the future for these two kids. Both are 23 years old, and both will turn 24 in the upcoming season. Both are going to be on their second contracts with the Rangers organization, and both will need to pass through waivers if they don’t make the club out of camp.

The similarities don’t just end there. Both have played two full years in Hartford, although McIlrath would’ve played three full seasons if Kyle Jean didn’t blow out McIlrath’s knee before the 2012-2013 season. Both have seen significant improvements in their games over these two years. Lindberg’s goals and points totals increased, while McIlrath was specifically called out by Jeff Beukeboom as one of the most improved players over the season.

Another similarity: There are higher ranked prospects that could command a roster spot soon. Brady Skjei is expected to compete for a roster spot on defense out of camp, if there is an opening. Adam Tambellini and Pavel Buchnevich are very talented and it is more than likely at least one cracks the roster within the next two or three seasons.

That brings us to this year. Assuming the Rangers are able to fit all four RFAs under the salary cap, a big assumption at this point, then there may not be any spots for either Lindberg or McIlrath to start the season. The blue line is pretty much set, with all six starters returning and Raphael Diaz slotting in as the 7D. Twelve of the thirteen forwards are also set, and while Lindberg could feasibly make the team as the 13F, would Alain Vigneault be comfortable enough scratching Tanner Glass on a regular basis?

Side note: I can’t wait to see the carnage if Lindberg makes the team as a fourth line forward, then AV scratches Viktor Stalberg instead of Glass.

There is a realistic scenario of neither making the team, and then neither getting called up midseason. This is unlikely, as the Rangers would need to be perfectly healthy and all perform up to expectations, something that almost never happens in the NHL. But it’s still a remote possibility. Even so, Lindberg and McIlrath could be the 14th forward and 8th defense options, respectively.

There’s still a lot of offseason left, so anything is possible. But most of their futures, at least in Rangers blue for this season, could lie in the Derek Stepan contract. If he gets $7 million per year, then the Rangers will have no choice but to deal one of Klein or Glass, or perhaps both. At $6.5 million, the Rangers still wouldn’t be forced into a trade, although a large number of injuries would force them into a pretty dire situation.

I have faith in Jeff Gorton to properly plan for this season with an eye on the future. But these kids aren’t silly. They see the logjam and the other prospects knocking at the door. If they don’t get a legitimate shot this year, will they ever?