Dylan McIlrath: What can the Rangers do with you?
Perhaps the most criticized Rangers draft pick in recent history, Dylan McIlrath, is in a bit of an odd situation in his career. He is 23 years old, and has just finished up his fourth season in the AHL in Hartford. This year, he turned heads after Christmas, really playing well and taking on some tough minutes in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
But now is not a good time to be a defensive prospect down with the Wolf Pack. There is currently a logjam of talented, reliable defensemen with the NHL, and practically no chance for someone like McIlrath to finally break in with the big club. There are also four right-handed shots on the blue line, which makes his chance of breaking into the NHL even smaller.
There’s even more of a concern about this because Gorton re-signed him to a one-year, one way contract. If McIlrath doesn’t make the team out of training camp, or after the pre-season, he would need to clear waivers in order to re-join the Wolf Pack. Any of the other 29 teams can claim his services off of waivers.
While we can sit here and complain about who the Rangers passed up on in the draft, but that’s beating a dead horse. McIlrath still has value, and the Rangers don’t want to lose him for nothing. The one-way contract given to him likely means that they were intending to give him a shot at making the NHL roster.
Technically, the Rangers could keep him in the NHL, leaving eight healthy defensemen on the roster. There is ample cap space to do this, but it would leave around $200k left in cap space. The biggest problem with this is that it limits what the Rangers could do at the trade deadline, and when bringing up guys from the Wolf Pack.
It also means that McIlrath probably wouldn’t get much playing time at all. Unless Vigneault goes with a seven defenseman tactic, similar to the one that Jon Cooper employs in Tampa, then he would be the eighth defenseman. He’s not going to steal a job from Girardi or Boyle, and Klein seems as if he’s going to be a mainstay in the lineup. Raphael Diaz has more experience, and is practically a shoe-in for the spare defenseman role.
It’s not worth keeping him on the roster unless he will actually get some playing time. Sure, regularly practicing with NHL caliber players and learning from the coaching staff would help, but it doesn’t outweigh the positives of him being an everyday, top-pairing AHL defender in Hartford.
When looking at waiving McIlrath, there are a few ways to approach the situation. In the likely event that he does not make the team, or if the Rangers have no plans for him this year, then they can place him on waivers in hope that no team would claim him.
The earlier they do this, the better. If Gorton places him on waivers early, before preseason perhaps, then there will probably be less teams looking for a spare defenseman, as they will be evaluating their own talent. But this could anger McIlrath too. After working very hard this past season, really improving his game and playing very well in the playoffs, he may feel as if he was never given a fair chance at making the team.
If Gorton and Vigneault have him play through training camp, and through the preseason games, then they run the risk of losing him when placing him on waivers. He would be given a chance to make the team, and of course there is always the chance that he catches the attention of the coaching staff, or there is an injury and he is needed. These are unlikely scenarios though.
Then we get to the possibility of a trade. They could eliminate all of these scenarios, and make it easy by trading McIlrath. No risk of losing him for nothing, no chance of angering him by sending him down. There is not a guarantee that he will ever make the team, at least not in the near future, because the defensive corps will be very full, especially as guys like Ryan Graves and Brady Skjei get closer and closer to being NHL ready.
This would allow the Rangers to get a draft pick, or another prospect, and it would allow McIlrath to finally get the chance at making an NHL roster. Perhaps new scenery and a fresh start would do him good.
He’s not the only person that could get traded. I’ve mentioned it on the site before, and so have many other people. I highly doubt that it would happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The Rangers could go ahead and trade someone like Kevin Klein.
The team needs some extra cap space for next season anyway, needing to re-sign players like Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes after this year. Klein will probably not replicate his offensive success this season, meaning that his trade value is at an all-time high. While he is a very solid, dependable defenseman, his $3 million salary could be used elsewhere. For the sixth defenseman on the team, that’s a high salary.
Doing this would allow McIlrath to get a chance to crack an NHL roster out of camp for the first time ever. If Klein was traded, he would at least be the seventh defenseman, and that would give him a good amount of playing time. However, you lose a dependable, reliable defenseman in Kevin Klein.
None of these scenarios are without a downside. There’s not really an ideal option here. But the Rangers really need to decide what they want to do with McIlrath. He was drafted in 2010, and the team still hasn’t decided where he fits, or if they want to trust him with a starting job. Apart from the Stepan negotiations, this is one of Gorton’s first tests in a tough situation. It will be very interesting to see how he handles it.
Personally, I like the improvements that McIlrath has made in the latter half of the season. Jeff Beukeboom speaks very highly of him, and it would be a shame to lose another first round draft pick on defense (Del Zotto being the other). The cap will be very tight next year, and I don’t think that it’s wise to invest so much money on the blue line. You can read my thoughts on spending a lot of money on defense (Link HERE), as well as trusting the kids on defense (Link HERE).
Posted on August 8, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged Brady Skjei, Cam Talbot trade, Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi, Dylan McIlrath, Hockey, Ice Hockey, Keith Yandle, Kevin Klein, Kevin Klein trade, Madison Square Garden, Marc Staal, McIlrath cap hit, McIlrath contract, MSG, New York Rangers, New York Rangers blog, NHL, NHL salary cap, NYR, Rangers, Rangers blog, Rangers Cap Space, Ryan McDonagh. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.