Rangers need to clear cap and trust the kids on defense

Bobby Bevilacqua

Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei

The Rangers need to clear cap space in order to re-sign their RFAs. To do that, some cap needs to be cleared on defense, and players like Dylan McIlrath and Brady Sjkei, both first round picks, should get playing time in the NHL. Photos courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images and MSG Photos.

The Rangers are currently in a bit of a cap crunch. As of right now, the Rangers have $59.5 million tied up in 14 players. The salary cap for next year is expected to rise to around $71 million, potentially rising slightly higher than that figure. Using that number, Glen Sather have $11.5 million free to sign seven free agents.

For this upcoming offseason, the Rangers will have to decide what to do with their three unrestricted free agents – Martin St. Louis, James Sheppard, and Matt Hunwick, and four restricted free agents – Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Jesper Fast and JT Miller.

Its expected that Sather plans on signing all four of the restricted free agents, which he should do, as they are all young, talented players that can be counted on for the future. Derek Stepan will be the most expensive, and Carl Hagelin could also get a good raise. Hagelin, Miller and Fast could wind up getting bridge deals, something that Sather does quite often.

There is a problem with trying to sign all of the RFAs. According to an estimate by Joe Fortunato from Blueshirt Banter, re-signing Stepan, Hagelin, Fast and Miller would cost around $13.5 million, more than the Rangers would have free in cap space. It also means that there would be absolutely no room to sign St. Louis, Hunwick or Sheppard.

Realistically, if the Rangers want to keep their young core together and make sure they have talent for the future, they’ll need to shed some cap space. Talbot is all but traded already, so that would be $1.45 million off of the books, minus the cost to sign a veteran backup. The only other place to shad cap space is on defense, and the only movable contract that the Rangers would be willing to trade is that of Kevin Klein.

Klein had a career year in 2014-15, posting a career high in goals and points, and playing very reliable defense for the most part. His value is as high as ever, and teams looking for a steady, top-four defenseman could be looking at Klein. He has a very friendly cap hit of $2.9 million, and he is signed through the 2017-18 season.

Kevin Klein shooting 1-29

Kevin Klein had a career year during the 2014-15 season, and the Rangers could capitalize on his value and friendly cap hit in order to free up cash for their forwards. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

That brings us to the main point of this article. It’s time for the Rangers to trust the youth, and give Brady Skjei or Dylan McIlrath a shot at a full-time job in the NHL.

As of right now, the Rangers have an absurdly high amount of money invested on defense, with nearly $26 million tied up in six defensemen. In order to create space for re-signing forwards, and potentially bringing in a winger via trade, some of that money on the blue line needs to go.

Realistically, the Rangers shouldn’t have two contracts in guys like Staal and Girardi. Both a very similar players with limited offensive ability, and they both have a cap hit of $5.5 million or higher (Staal’s is $5.7 million). Neither of them are going anywhere though, as they both have no-trade clauses. So Klein is really the only player that could be moved.

Dylan McIlrath was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and he has been working to get to the NHL ever since, spending a lot of time in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Mcilrath is an RFA this offseason, so the Rangers would need to re-sign him, which they could do for cheap.

When he was first drafted, McIlrath was described as an old-time defenseman, with an intimidating presence on the ice due to his 6-5, 230 pound frame and his tendency to throw the body or drop the gloves. He has good straightaway speed and offensive ability, and forces puck carriers to change their approach due to his intimidating size. (The Hockey Writers)

McIlrath 11-3

McIlrath is a wrecking ball on the ice, but he’s developed his skating and defensive abilities as well. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

However, he has never been able to crack the NHL roster, due to the Rangers depth in the back end as well as needing time to better his defensive play. He’s 23, and his chances of being a full-time NHL player are fleeting. Now would be the best time to let him try and earn that chance.

This past season with Hartford was probably the biggest jump in progress that McIlrath has ever made, and perhaps his best season as a professional. Jeff Beukeboom, assistant coach for the Wolf Pack and long-time Rangers defenseman, served as his mentor throughout the season. And it really showed.

Beukeboom was known as a fierce hitter and physical force in his days, but also as a reliable defenseman. And slowly but surely, McIlrath is starting to take on that same form. He’s still an intimidating presence on the ice, with the ability to throw crushing hits and clear the front of the net, but he’s developed the more central aspects of his game.

The biggest improvement this year was in his skating. Beukeboom said that at times, McIlrath would fall and have his feet slip out from under him.

When discussing the steps taken for his development, Beukeboom said, “we had a great skating coach here and we came up with a game plan and did stuff with his skates that I did as far as balance and not only that, Dylan has worked really hard and consistently working on his skill set and everything, his skating and it’s the first season that he stayed healthy. It all came together at the right time for him.” (SNYRangers)

From December, McIlrath showed big strides, shouldering heavy minutes and tough assignments in the AHL. He played very well in the playoffs, a plus player in every series, and playing well defensively. He finished with 17 points (6-11-17) in the regular season, adding two assists in the playoffs.

If he doesn’t get a chance in the NHL soon, then chances are that he never will. The Rangers could use a right-handed shot, and an actual tough guy that will clear out the crease and stand up for teammates at opportune times (I’m looking at you Tanner Glass). McIlrath should get a look in training camp.

The other option is Brady Skjei, the Rangers 2012 first round pick out of Minnesota. Skjei signed an ELC with the Rangers this season, with an ATO so he could report to the AHL without burning a year of his entry level contract. Skjei joined Hartford for eight regular season games, and also played in the playoffs.

brady skjei hartford

Brady Skjei impressed in his brief time at Hartford, quickly getting bumped up to the top defensive pairing. Photo courtesy of the Hartford Wolf Pack.

What was very impressive was how quickly he earned the trust of Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander. After coming over from Minnesota, Skjei was quickly put on the team’s top pairing in the playoffs, where he tallied a goal and two assists.

Skjei has been compared to Ryan McDonagh for his similar size, speed and tremendous skating ability. Like the captain, Skjei can carry the puck out of the zone and help with transitioning onto offense. He has a high offensive upside, but his defensive game is already there, with many speculating that he could play well in his own zone in the NHL right now.

The Rangers need cap space for their offense and RFAs. It’s time to trim some of the fat on defense, and start letting the kids, like McIlrath and Skjei, earn some significant playing time in the NHL.

Posted on June 22, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Looking forward to watching Mcilrath in the NHL. Hope for the best.

    Also great to read your positive comments on Skjei. I know he’s going to be in the NHL sooner than later…but had no idea he had so quickly been promoted to first D-Line duty during the playoffs. It seems the NCAA is just as good for development as the AHL.


    • Yeah the NCAA is a great place for kids to learn. More and more very high quality players are coming out of there. On the Rangers alone, Hagelin, Stepan, McDonagh, Kreider and Hayes are all from the NCAA.
      I like Skjei a lot from what I’ve seen and read. I hope McIlrath works out. He’s been training with Beukeboom on skating and other aspect of D, and it really started to show this year!


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