Steve Zipay takes you inside the locker room, home and on the road, with the New York Rangers, and also writes about the NHL, off and on the ice.
Rookie camp notes: McIlrath, Thomas, Miller, Nieves
A few interviews from the on-ice testing day of Rangers rookie camp:
-- Dylan McIlrath, the 2010 1st-round pick, enjoyed his time at the end of last season as a self-described "Black Ace" -- he turned pro after Moose Jaw's season ended, played five playoff games with the CT Whale and then skated with the extras during the Rangers run to the Eastern Conference final.
"This is definitely the year I've been waiting for, my first pro year," McIlrath said. "I had a good taste of it with the Whale at the end of last season, then being here to watch the playoffs up close. This place is like a second home to me now. It feels good."
McIlrath will get a longer look in training camp, but he's ticketed for the Whale to learn under assistant coach J.J. Daigneault, who has tutored all but one (Marc Staal) of the Rangers' homegrown D-men.
-- Christian Thomas, the 2010 2nd-rounder, is also on the cusp of his first full professional season. He finished up with 34 goals in 55 games for Oshawa of the OHL, then played the end of the regular season and the playoffs with the Whale.
Thomas can't do much about his small stature at 5-foot-9, but the small winger is trying to learn how to play a smarter game. "I'm more aware on the ice," Thomas said. "I'm trying not to put myself in a bad position, being a smaller guy."
To get stronger, Thomas has enlisted former NHL power forward Gary Roberts, now a trainer to the elite NHLers in Toronto. "My Dad (Steve) played with him," Thomas said. "I'm working out with Steven Stamkos, James Neal, Jeff Skinner. It's an amazing group. They really push you."
-- J.T. Miller, last year's 1st-round pick, took some heat for de-committing from the University of Michigan last year to head to the OHL. After a successful season -- he was 25-37-62 in 61 games for Plymouth, then 2-8-10 in 13 playoff games -- Miller joined the Whale for the playoffs and he'll be vying for a spot on the roster in September.
"I was focused on a faster route to the NHL, and I feel like that's happened," Miller said. "I wanted to play a lot of games, I got a chance to play World Juniors, things went really well. And I finished up in the AHL and I think I proved I can play at that level."
Despite being only 19, Miller is eligible to play in the AHL because he wasn't drafted out of the Canadian junior leagues.
-- Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, the Rangers' second-round pick this past Saturday, is headed for Michigan in the fall. He got a message of congratulations from current Ranger and former Wolverine Carl Hagelin, and the two are pretty well linked now.
"I'll be wearing his number (No. 12) when I get there," Nieves said. "Pretty big shoes to fill."
-- First-round pick Brady Skjei will arrive at rookie camp later this week, owing to a schooling issue that needs to be resolved in Minnesota.