Dylan McIlrath was selected No. 10 in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry draft, and so far he has looked more like a fourth- or fifth-round selection than the top-notch defender the New York Rangers thought they were drafting. According to TSN, McIlrath was the No. 17-ranked skater during his draft year.
At the time, the pick was peculiar when you consider the other talent available. And as each day passes this pick is moving closer and closer to bust territory. Not quite Hugh Jessiman territory, but a bust nonetheless.
At the 2010 draft, both Pierre McGuire and Bob McKenzie of TSN were shocked that the Rangers chose McIlrath over Cam Fowler—currently of the Anaheim Ducks— and Brandon Gormley currently with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Rangers currently have a Hoover Dam-like jam on the backend, and defenders such as John Moore and Conor Allen will be in direct competition with McIlrath for a roster spot. After spending four years in the WHL and two in the AHL, 2014-15 will be McIlrath's last shot to prove why he is a viable option for the Blueshirts.
Although his progress has been rather slow, the Rangers have been very patient with McIlrath for a variety of reasons. For starters, he is a massive specimen at 6'5" and 230 pounds. He is tough as a $1 steak and he has a booming slap shot. It helps that he is right-handed, as those types of defenders don't grow on trees.
The problem, however, is that is all that he brings to the table. At the NHL draft there are always big defenders who ooze physicality, pugnacity and truculence. Those types of players go in the later stages. However, if you are picking a defender at No. 10, he better bring those qualities and some skill to justify the pick.
Although McIlrath has not panned out as predicted to date, it isn't entirely his fault. To his credit, he showed some limited growth during the 2012-13 season, but he only got going in December because of a knee injury suffered during the summer. This past season he tallied 17 points in 62 AHL games, and he appeared in two NHL games.
He earned a lot of respect for getting in a fight with noted pugilist Brian McGrattan, and he showed that he has the potential to be a decent enforcer. While that is all good and well, this season McIlrath needs to take the next step and show some consistency.
He needs to show better decision-making with the puck; he needs to continue developing his offensive abilities and show he can skate at the NHL level. McIlrath isn't exactly a pylon on the ice, but his lack of mobility and limited range of motion stood out during his brief NHL stint.
The Rangers have other defenders in their system with upside such as Brady Skjei, and this season will determine McIlrath's position with the club.
Training camp is around the corner, and this is a make-or-break moment for the 22-year-old defender. He still has time to mature and turn into an NHL defender, but without a good showing this season, he may end up doing it in a different sweater.