McIlrath makes Rangers, Etem and Glass extra forwards

Dylan McIlrath made the Rangers as a seventh defenseman. Getty Images

Dylan McIlrath made the Rangers as a seventh defenseman.
Getty Images

The Rangers placed defenseman Raphael Diaz and forward Jayson Megna on waivers. That means the roster is at the 23 maximum. At least for the time being, the Rangers have decided to go with 14 forwards and seven defensemen.

It comes as no surprise that Oscar Lindberg made it. With an impressive training camp and preseason, the 23-year old forward will either start in the middle or on the wing. A natural center who won over 50 percent of faceoffs in a couple of exhibition games, he might get the chance to play there. If Lindberg proves he can win draws consistently, it would help improve one of the team’s weaknesses.

Along with vet Jarret Stoll, who was brought in for that very reason, there’s reason for optimism. But what does that mean for Dominic Moore? Rangers coach Alain Vigneault tried Moore on the wing in a couple of games. He has played there before but also is a proven checking pivot who wins more faceoffs than he loses. Also a key penalty killer, Moore is a heady player who always steps up.

The reason for the question is Tanner Glass remains on the roster. Essentially in a battle for the 13th forward with Emerson Etem, the 31-year old Glass has done enough in the coaching staff’s view to stick with the team. But is that only temporary? They can ill afford to lose Etem to waivers after they acquired him for Carl Hagelin. At 23, the former Duck hasn’t distinguished himself yet. At the end of preseason, he played with Glass on the same line. He carries a cheaper salary ($851,00) than Glass ($1.5 million).

Not that having two extra forwards is bad. Glass is a deterrent while Etem has potential. Remember Brian Boyle? He was also a former first round pick who never got much of a sniff with the Kings. The Rangers took a chance on him and he became a dependable checking center who wins draws and is a good penalty killer. Boyle was a key contributor to the ’13-14 roster that reached the Stanley Cup Final. In a twist of irony, they fell to his former team. Boyle left Broadway for Tampa Bay and again lost in the Cup with his new team.

Who knows what Etem becomes. He is 23 and has totaled 31 points (15-16-31) in 112 career NHL games. He scored three goals during last postseason. For now, he’s an extra forward who must earn playing time.

As for Glass, he is what he is. A good teammate who brings energy and physicality. Vigneault continued to use him as a penalty killer. Glass didn’t practice today due to blocking a shot. Nobody can say he doesn’t work hard. He’ll never be worth the contract former GM Glen Sather gave him. If they keep him as an extra, so be it. As long as he’s not in the lineup daily. They can insert him for rivalry games where toughness is needed.

Here’s the thing. With Diaz losing the seventh defenseman job to Dylan McIlrath (it’s about time), couldn’t Big Mac play the same role? As we saw during preseason, the 23-year old former 2010 first round pick was on a mission to make the club. He was one of the best defensemen.

With elder statesman Dan Boyle in likely his final year, there’s no need to play him every game. Vigneault should want to keep the 39-year old offensive blueliner fresh. He is a good possession player who is an asset in the offensive zone. In his own end, he remains an adventure which is to be expected.

If McIlrath proves capable, Vigneault can also rest Dan Girardi if he chooses to. Of course, Danny G is a warrior who hates missing games. But at 31 having played a ton of hockey due to the Rangers deep postseasons, it’s more important to keep him fresh. Whether it’s by having him sit out a couple of games or by keeping his minutes down. In the last two playoff runs, Girardi broke down.

The same can be echoed for Marc Staal, who is an old 28 due to all the mileage. Combine that with his concussion history and injuries and it’s affected his mobility. Like Girardi, Staal lays it out there. It’s no wonder he and Girardi were nursing serious injuries that required surgery in the off-season to be ready. Girardi had a better camp. Staal looked slow.

Having a younger and bigger body like McIlrath should help. Despite boasting one of the NHL’s best defenses headlined by captain Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle, they have lacked physical edge. At 6-5 and 220 pounds, McIlrath brings that. The last time the Rangers had a defenseman who could hit and make the opposition accountable, it was Mike Sauer, whose career was ended by a clean Dion Phaneuf hit.

The Blueshirts do have Kevin Klein, who keeps opponents honest. The 30-year old also struggled during preseason. But he’s proven and is coming off a career season in which he posted nine goals, 17 assists and 26 points with a plus-25 rating. If McIlrath plays himself into a starting role, Klein has an affordable contract with a $2.9 million cap hit thru 2018 that could make him attractive to other teams who need a experienced right-handed D.

It’s just nice to see McIlrath finally here. It’s been a tough road for a player we got to meet in 2011 at a Draft Party. He’s overcome injuries that cast doubt over his career. He’s worked extremely hard. Hopefully, he sticks.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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