When the New York Rangers' made defenseman Dylan McIlrath the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Almost four full years later, those eyebrows are still raised.
McIlrath, nicknamed "The Undertaker" in his junior hockey days in Moose Jaw, is a player who, if you couldn't guess from the moniker, was drafted much more for his physical prowess than his skill or even defensive acumen. In the days following the pick, phrases such as "a long ways away," "must improve his play with the puck," and, perhaps most damning of all, "needs to improve his skating" were used to describe the selection of McIlrath.
A general rule of thumb: If skating ability is a question mark, a player might not be worthy of the 10th pick in the draft.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in the case of the 2010 draft, it's painful. The list of notable players still on the board when McIlrath was selected is neither short nor unaccomplished. Cam Fowler (12th overall) is already a US Olympian, Jaden Schwartz (14th) has 42 points this year, his teammate with St. Louis, Vladimir Tarasenko, has 18 goals. Others still available included Evgeny Kuznetsov (25th), who is considered one of the best players in Europe and is expected to come to North America soon, and Nick Bjugstad (19th), who's lit the lamp 13 times for Florida.
Any and all of those players would look awfully good in Broadway blue right about now. But, at the time, the Rangers and Glen Sather had somehow determined that a crease clearing defenseman was what stood between the Blueshirts and Lord Stanley's Cup, even with Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, and a healthy Michael Sauer already in the fold.
The Rangers' brain trust made their ill-fated determination despite big, crease clearing defenseman–think Jeff Beaukeboom–going the way of the Dodo bird in the post-lockout NHL, despite spending 4 of their previous 6 top picks on defenseman or goaltenders, and despite Vinny Prospal finishing second on the team in scoring in 2009-10.
On second thought, there may have been more pressing needs.
What Sather–whose draft record with the Rangers is checkered at best–was given in 2010 was a golden ticket. Sather, rarely the possessor of a top-10 pick during his time in New York, saw high-end talents the likes of Fowler and Tarasenko fall into his lap, yet passed them up in favor of McIlrath–a thumper most expected to be available 10 picks later.
McIlrath is still young–just 21 years of age–but has yet to reward Sather's leap of faith. He's been plagued by injuries, looked overwhelmed this preseason, and was underwhelming in his two-game call up earlier this year. It's fair to say that McIlrath's teammate in Hartford, the undrafted Conor Allen, has usurped the former 1st-round pick as the first man to be called up in the event of an injury.
Here's a name no Ranger fan can forget, no matter how hard they may try: Hugh Jessiman, the erstwhile 1st-rounder Sather once selected with a stable of future all-stars still on the board. Big Hugh, like McIlrath, was nabbed for his size as much as his skill, was a surprise selection, and, has played just two NHL games.
For the Rangers, a team seemingly always just one player away, it could be Déjà vu all over again.
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