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Dylan McIlrath: Fans "won't be disappointed"



             Surprised? Dylan McIlrath was. And so were the pundits and fans on blogs and message boards.               

              The Moose Jaw defenseman, nicknamed "The Undertaker" and the "Freight Train from WInnipeg" had met with four other teams---Dallas, Anaheim, Vancouver and Florida---but the Rangers scouts praised him before he tested at last month’s draft combine in Toronto. So he was on their radar. Targeted.


            “To be honest, I’m a little surprised,” the 18-year-old pal of Travis Hamonic (drafted by the Isles in 2008) said after he was chosen with the 10th pick. “With the other teams, I thought it might be one of them.” 


            To be sure, the Rangers appeared to signal that they were looking for a scoring forward, but instead took the fourth defenseman in the first round in six years.


            At 6-4 and 212, McIlraith is certainly a physical blueliner, (19 fighting majors last season) and raw offensively, and was taken with two other top-rated defensemen Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley on the board, as well as a number of forwards with upside. But the scouts thought the fast-improving defenseman filled a gap.


            Yes, the Rangers drafted for need.


             “Since early December, we saw him making a step we never thought he had,” said Gordie Clark, the Rangers director of player personnel. “His play just started taking off, he had a helluva stretch and a helluva playoff.  All his points came in the second half (actually 16 of his 24 in 29 games).  We have a good group of young kids, talented forwards,” said Clark, but not someone like McIlrath. “This ingredient is missing. He’s a guy you’re gonna look out every night and you’re not gonna like playing against him.”


             In 65 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, McIlrath has seven goals and 17 assists and 169 penalty minutes. With a plus-20 rating, he received Moose Jaw’s most improved player award for the second straight year. In the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects Game, he finished second in the hardest shot competition at 91.8 mph.


                        McIlrath, who met with the Rangers before he tested at the combine, said he believes he can develop into more of a two-way player. “I know I’m not gonna be a 50-point guy,” said McIlrath, who’d like to pattern himself after Nashville defenseman Shea Weber. “I know my role is to be a shut-down guy.”


                       Like many fans, he watched as the draft unfolded with forwards being taken with eight of the first nine selections. “I was making bets with my dad and after the first three (picks), I was wrong on every one,” said McIlrath. “Biut I can’t imagine a better opportunity, my dad was a rugby player maybe that’s where I get nasty from. I’ve always been a physical player…it’s not just fighting, it’s the intimidation factor.”


                        McIlrath was the second defenseman taken after Florida took Erik Gudbranson ay No. 3. In 2008, the Rangers took defenseman Michael Del Zotto at 20; in 2006, grabbed Bobby Sanguinetti at 21, and Marc Staal at 12 in 2005.

                      Clark expects McIlrath to be playing in Moose Jaw next year, but could make the club sooner than expected in the learning curve continues. “He’s a top class volleyball player, the feet are there,” said Clark. “When this kid is 22, you’re gonna see a helluva hockey player.”


                        The Rangers will have four picks today: No. 40, 100, 130, and 190, unless they add another in a trade.











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