Future Ranger: Dylan McIlrath
When the topic of most improved Rangers Prospect comes up, the list should start and end with Dylan McIlrath. In what is his first full pro season, McIlrath has shown impressive gains in all areas of his game. Under normal circumstances, hearing about a prospect improving would be music to your ears; unfortunately, there is nothing normal about the path that McIlrath has taken.
The Great Debate
From the second Dylan McIlrath was drafted 10th overall in the 2010 NHL draft, he has been the subject of many debates between Rangers fans. The combination of Rangers fans as a whole being impatient when it comes to prospects and the Rangers organization being notoriously bad in the draft were, and still are the catalyst for many of these debates.
On one side, the nay sayers saw the early success of Cam Fowler, a player the Rangers passed over in order to draft McIlrath. Coupled with injury concerns and the still fresh wounds from former Rangers first round busts Hugh Jessimen, and Michael Del Zotto, both of which have been used in comparisons to McIlrath, have led to fan doubts. The fact that McIlrath is has only played in two NHL games while Fowler was just played in the 2014 Olympics is a concern and sticking point for many. The term “Injury prone” has been (unfairly) thrown around as a way to describe him and with Del Zotto recently being traded; many will tell you that the writing is on the wall for the 21 year old.
On the other side, you have fans, who understand that that McIlrath was drafted with the idea that it was going to be a few years before we saw a return. They also understand that he has a skill set that no one else in the organization has and fills roles that the rangers have longed for. Team toughness is still lacking, a player who would deter other teams from running around is missing. Other than McIlrath, the closest thing the Rangers have to a mean, crease clearing defenseman that brings an edge to the blue line is sitting behind the bench in a suit and tie.
Where He Has Improved
Coming into the 2013/2014 AHL season, the major concerns in McIlrath’s game were his skating, his defensive positioning and his non existent offensive game. Under the tutelage OF former Ranger great Jeff Beukeboom, McIlrath has addressed all of those concerns.
First and foremost the improvements he made on his skating and positioning on the ice are most notable. His skating is more fluid, and is a faster skater. He plays his angles better, makes quicker decisions on his reads and is anticipating plays instead of reacting to plays. In the past he would fly all around the ice trying to kill people and often times left him exposed to odd man rushes, now he picks his spots, and waits for the right time to go for bone jarring hits. The cherry on top of all of this for the season, McIlrath has set career highs with goals assists and points, (seven goals seven assists and 14 points), and still has 13 games to improve on those numbers.
What to Expect
As far as the improvements happening down in Hartford, Dylan McIlrath is by far the most improved player and is continuing to get better everyday. When Big Mac is playing his game, you will get a mean, in your face crease clearing defenseman that loves bringing the nasty. McIlrath is a big and strong player that keeps guys to the outside and finishes his checks whenever he can. He is the type of player that makes you work for everything, and then makes you pay for it, the type of player that you hate to play against. No stranger to the rough stuff, McIlrath has no problem dropping the gloves. We have seen him fight for the sake of standing up for teammates as well as to intimidate and change the coarse of the game. While he does have a big shot from the point, he won’t be quarterbacking the power play any time soon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t drive pucks at the net. In my opinion, anything we get from him offensively is just gravy.
While the debates will continue to rage on for years to come, it is important to note that “the undertaker” is on the right path to make an impact in this organization. There is no question that he still needs some seasoning, and there is still room for improvement.
When you look at the consensus fan favorites throughout the years of the “Garden Faithful”, you will start to notice a trend that all these players are similar to one another. They are all gritty, tough, take care of business, and play with a blue collar attitude. Dylan McIlrath certainly has the skill set that Ranger fans tend to fall in love with, the question is, will Ranger fans be patient enough to allow McIlrath a chance to earn their love.