McIlrath proving he belongs

Dylan McIlrath, Matt Beleskey

New York Rangers’ Dylan McIlrath (6) and Boston Bruins’ Matt Beleskey (39) fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Since he’s become a regular in the Rangers lineup, Dylan McIlrath has played well. Paired mostly with Keith Yandle, the 23-year old rookie is finally showing why he was taken in the first round.

It’s taken some time for McIlrath due to injuries which slowed his development. But after working for the past two years with former ’94 Cup hero Jeff Beukeboom in Hartford, it’s apparent that the big physical defenseman has staying power.

While it’s true he’s gotten his chance with Kevin Klein out, McIlrath has made the most of his opportunity. If you put stock in the whole Corsi based off, McIlrath and Yandle have become the Rangers most reliable tandem at 5-on-5. They rarely are on the negative side of the ledger. In tonight’s 2-1 loss at Vancouver, McIlrath was a plus-21 in shot differential while Yandle was plus-16. That’s a combined plus-37. 

In fact, McIlrath had several chances to score his first goal. He has a rocket and hasn’t been hesitant to unleash it. It just hasn’t found its target yet. In 22 shifts, he had two missed attempts with two blocked shots in 13:50 of ice-time. Most of his time came at even-strength logging 12:30 with another 1:20 shorthanded. Vigneault leaned heavily on his top three of McDonagh, Girardi and Marc Staal on the penalty kill.

It is interesting to note that assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson rotated Boyle with Yandle for some shifts searching for more offense. McIlrath got a couple of shifts with Staal. Due in large part to the penalties in the final period, his ice-time was cut down. Vigneault went largely with McDonagh (23:15, 3 shots, 5 attempts) and Yandle (2 shots, 8 attempts, 21:18).

In a game like Wednesday’s, it’s understandable why McIlrath didn’t get many shifts when trailing. However, he has proven capable of keeping pucks in and taking his big shot. If he can find the net with regularity, that could be to the Rangers’ benefit.

The question for the coaching staff is what happens when Klein returns. Can they justify sitting McIlrath when he’s been one of their most effective blueliners? It might be time for a radical concept. One which includes McIlrath as part of the solution. If that means giving Girardi or Staal a night off, that can only aid the team next Spring. Keeping the older vets fresh will be a big key.

Whatever Rangers brass decide should be worth watching.

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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