It’s been three years since defenseman Dylan McIlrath was drafted No. 10 overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and while fans have been clamoring to see the brooding defenseman known as “The Undertaker” on Broadway, McIlrath is preaching patience.
“It’s been three year now since I’ve been drafted and sometimes with a first-round pick, you expect them to play right away,” McIlrath told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “I’m glad [the fans] are remaining patient and management is patient and I’m definitely patient. I want to be 100 percent ready to play before I’m [in New York].”
The fans’ desire to see the 21-year-old bruiser blueliner with the Rangers is understandable, as his physical presence in his own zone, coupled with his willingness to drop the gloves with anyone are traits New York area hockey fans have loved throughout the years.
But while McIlrath’s hits and fights have become a stuff of legend thanks to websites like YouTube, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder said there’s more to his game than just physicality.
“I try to pride myself on really good defensive play,” McIlrath explained. “I played a lot of penalty kill this year and take a lot of pride in not getting scored against,” which he said makes up for a lack of offensive production. “I truly believe you need your foundation of good defense before you start working on other parts of your game. In the end, I want to be a good, shutdown defenseman who is physical and who can fight.”
An offseason knee injury limited McIlrath to just 45 games in his first professional season with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL, and he registered five assists and 125 penalty minutes — 13 fighting majors — which was third on the team behind Kris Newbury (127) and Michael Haley (170), though both players played more than 20 more games than McIlrath.
The Winnipeg-native spent four seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League before turning pro last season. His best season came in 2009-10 when he notched seven goals, 17 assists and 24 points, along with 169 penalty minutes in 65 games.
McIlrath said the biggest adjustment from the Western Hockey League — where he spent four seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors — and the AHL was the size and speed of the opposition.
“I thought it went better as the year went on with knowing my strengths and staying in good position, while still being a physical presence,” McIlrath said. “I thought I went through stretches where I had pretty good games, so it was definitely an up and down year, but it was definitely a good experience.”
After a slow start to their season, McIlrath and his Whale teammates kicked it into high gear after Christmas, and while their run fell short of a playoff berth, McIlrath said it was fun to play meaningful hockey down the stretch.
“The last few months, our team was really hot,” he said. “It was exciting coming to the rink every night. It’s all part of the learning experience and it’ll make me stronger next year.”
With his first season of professional hockey behind him and the offseason in full swing, McIlrath said he’s already begun working out for next season. He said he understands how important this summer is for him and his development, especially with the goal being to crack the lineup out of camp.
McIlrath said he knows a spot won’t just be given to him because he is one of the organizations most highly touted prospects, and that the only way he can find his name on the Rangers roster is through hard work.
“I’m sure if you ask any of the young kids coming up that their goal is to make the team. That’s my goal,” he said. “I know nothing is going to be handed to me. I’m going to try and earn a spot and do everything I can this summer to earn a spot. I know I’ll be ready for camp.”