Every season there appears to be a player who gets the short end of the stick. The guy who should be playing every night, or should have more minutes than he’s currently getting, but doesn’t for reasons out of his control. Last year that was Dylan McIlrath. I’m not going to re-hash last year as everyone knows what happened.
Therefore most assumed McIlrath, after being the good solider all last season, would have a regular spot this season. I know I did five months ago when the Rangers season came to a sudden end. Then the Rangers traded for Nick Holden. Okay, he can be the seventh defenseman, I thought. Then they signed Adam Clendening. Oh, he’ll be headed to Hartford, I assumed. Then came preseason.
Let’s get this out of the way – not a single defensemen who was on this roster six months ago played well enough for anyone to say they should be on the top pair on this team. The three regulars from last season continued their trends of up and down games. The captain played one game that was average at best. The two kids planning to come in and earn spots did anything but that. But the two new players? They caught Vigneault’s eye.
Were they perfect? Of course not. It’s preseason. But Clendening showed enough with his offense to deserve ice time while Holden was completely invisible, the best compliment you can give a defenseman in my opinion. If either of them get the chance to play, someone else would have to be out.
Fair or not, the four veterans will get a chance to lose their spots. I expect them to succeed in doing so but they will have to do it. That brings us to McIlrath and this quote he gave to the Daily News:
“It’s a little bit of a bittersweet feeling. Obviously I made the team, but not starting,” McIlrath told The News. “So I’m obviously frustrated. I think I’m gonna have to sit down with Beuk (Jeff Beukeboom) and maybe AV (Alain Vigneault) and we’ll figure out — I know what I can do, what I can bring. So I’ve just gotta make sure I show them in practice that I’m ready whenever they need me and I’ve just gotta stay patient.”
Bittersweet is one way to put it. Frustrating has to be another because McIlrath did everything he could in preseason to earn that spot. Brady Skjei hasn’t but the belief is he will get it, leaving one of Clendening or Holden on the outside looking in.
If the Rangers aren’t going to play McIlrath, the question then becomes what are they going to do with him? As I’ve watched preseason unfold, my guess has been his days as a Blueshirt are numbered. Unfortunately Larry Brooks confirmed that yesterday when he wrote the Rangers are looking to trade the fan favorite sophomore.
It’s frustrating because it’s no secret how much time the Rangers spent teaching and molding McIlrath into an NHL defenseman. To give up on him now, when he finally appears ready, makes no sense. Then take into consideration the teams’ new defensive coach being the perfect person to help him finish taking that last step and it makes even less sense.
The problem is he isn’t a Vigneault-type player. Vigneault wants his defensemen to skate. Has McIlrath’s skating gotten better than when we first saw him in a Rangers jersey? Absolutely. But no one is mistaking him for Ryan McDonagh on the ice. So if the Rangers aren’t going to play him, maybe the best thing is to give him a fresh start. My hope is that over the next 24-48 hours, the Rangers change their mind and decide to keep him. Yes it will mean someone else is out. But McIlrath has earned that chance to get the roster spot he probably deserves.
(Photo: Melissa Andus)