When the Rangers host the Jets tonight at MSG, rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath will make his season debut. Selected 10th overall in the first round of the 2010 Draft, it’s taken a while for the 23-year old to get here. He’s played only three NHL games making two appearances in ’13-14 and one in ’14-15.
For McIlrath, it’s a chance to face his hometown team. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native replaces 39-year old veteran Dan Boyle in the lineup. A strong training camp and preseason vaulted McIlrath over vet Raphael Diaz as the team’s seventh defenseman. In the Rangers’ fourth game, he’ll get the opportunity to play on the third pair with Keith Yandle.
It should be a good test. Winnipeg is a skilled and tough team that takes the body. It’ll be interesting to see how many shifts McIlrath gets from third-year coach Alain Vigneault. A demanding coach who wants to see his young players excel, McIlrath will have to earn Vigneault’s trust. As we’ve seen with his handling of J.T. Miller and now Emerson Etem who finds himself the odd man out, he can be every bit as tough as former coach John Tortorella.
Facing the Jets who wrap up their visit to the metropolitan area fresh off a loss to the Islanders, the Rangers should be rested. They handled the Blue Jackets over the weekend and had two days to recover. Winnipeg will start Michael Hutchinson. Ondrej Pavelec faced a heavy workload in their 4-2 loss at Brooklyn with the Islanders getting 43 shots on the Jets starter. Hutchinson won his only start making 20 saves in Friday’s 3-1 win at the Devils.
Blake Wheeler is tied with Mathieu Perreault for the team lead with four points. Third-year forward Mark Scheifele is off to a good start leading the Jets with three goals. Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd has a goal and two helpers.
Dustin Byfuglien is their big bomber from the point with a goal and helper while throwing his weight around. He record 10 hits against the Islanders on Columbus Day. His physicality could be a reason McIlrath is in. Ditto for Tanner Glass who looks like he’ll stay in on the fourth line over Jesper Fast. Glass played an effective game in his season debut Saturday recording seven hits in 12 minutes.
Winnipeg has also gotten good contributions from returning Russian Alex Burmistrov. He has a goal and assist so far and took a elbowing minor against Boston’s Patrice Bergeron that infuriated him. Burmistrov apologized. Drew Stafford, Adam Lowry and Chris Thorburn play supporting roles. Bryan Little is without a point in three games.
The Jets boast some young forwards including Nicolas Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp. The defense is big with Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba all imposing right-handed shots who mix it up. Toby Enstrom and Mark Stuart round it out with Ben Chiarot.
For the Blueshirts, Henrik Lundqvist makes his fourth straight start. He’s come out hot winning his first three decisions allowing only six goals on 106 shots (2.01 GAA .943 Save Pct). With a visit to the Canadiens Thursday, it’s a good bet Hank will be in again for Montreal’s home opener.
Oscar Lindberg looks to continue his red hot start. He’s scored in all three games potting two in the MSG home opener. The play of Lindberg, Viktor Stalberg and J.T. Miller has offset a bad start for the top line. Rick Nash is without a point so far and Derick Brassard scored a power play goal. Mats Zuccarello has two goals with both coming at Columbus Friday.
Despite coming out flying, Chris Kreider hasn’t finished. He has two helpers. It would be a welcome sight to see him get his first goal tonight. Ditto Nash. Derek Stepan has looked sharp scoring twice and setting up another. Kevin Hayes has been a good fit so far as a right wing on the second line with a goal and two assists. He survived a scare Saturday when Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson caught him with a late hit to the back of his helmet. He was able to return.
The play of the checking line has been fine. Jarret Stoll has fit in so far in a penalty killing and defensive role. Dominic Moore scored on Saturday.
If there’s an area that can be shored up, it’s the defense. They’ve shown some leaks so far in the three wins giving up dangerous chances. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi aren’t off to a good start. Both should pick it up. Marc Staal has looked a step slow. Vigneault wisely switched Kevin Klein to pair up with Staal. Klein has been better after a sluggish preseason. He’s made good defensive plays and scored once on a delayed penalty. Yandle has looked good so far. He paces Rangers defensemen with three points which are all assists. With Boyle struggling, McIlrath gets the start.