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Thrown Into The Fire, This Might Be Dylan McIlrath's Last Shot

Dylan McIlrath is finally getting the chance to prove he belongs.

Bruce Bennett

Saturday night's game almost had a comedic feel to it after Ryan McDonagh went down with an injury. It was almost as though the Hockey Gods looked down on the Rangers fanbase and said, "want to play a little game?"

Tonight the Rangers take on the Blues without four of the six defensemen who started on opening night. Let's take a look at the damage, shall we?

McDonagh (shoulder separation) is out 3-4 weeks.

Dan Boyle (broken hand) could be back in 1-2 weeks.

John Moore (suspended for five games) will be eligible for a return on November 11th against Pittsburgh.

Kevin Klein (foot contusion) is a little bit of an unknown at this point.

These injuries have forced Alain Vigneault's hand, with Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen receiving callups and (most likely) starts tonight. For both this might be a last chance to make a lasting impression with the Rangers' brass, but for McIlrath specifically this is the chance he's been waiting for.

As it stands right now, everyone and their mother thinks McIlrath is about the biggest bust on the planet. The problem is, the impatience (and to be fair, Rangers fans have been asked to be patient with McIlrath) comes from one of two different places.

The first is the fans who hate McIlrath because the Rangers passed up on players like Vladimir Trasenko for him. Which isn't really fair, since McIlrath had nothing to do with that decision and he was never projected to bring much offense anyway. The Rangers drafted for need over best player available and fans blame that on him even though he did nothing more than hear his name called.

The second is fans who think he's a bust because he's 22 and hasn't made a significant impact in the NHL yet. Outside of the fact I've told you all a million times bigger defensemen take a longer time to develop (which is a tangible thing in the NHL) it's also throwing out the year McIlrath lost to a knee injury thanks to a pre-season collision with then teammate Kyle Jean. That injury set him back a full year, which obviously impacted his development.

To make it clear, I'm not defending McIlrath or saying he's going to be an amazing defenseman. I'm just saying sometimes excuses are tangible and McIlrath's injury/setback is a big one.

McIlrath, for what it's worth, has made major strides in the AHL the past couple of seasons; and most recently has looked pretty solid. For full disclosure, however, Vigneault went into Saturday's game with Michael Kostka over McIlrath -- which might be an indication of how high (or low) Vigneault or the brass is on him. At that time I speculated the Rangers need to move him if he's not even ready to step in during that moment. If this little experiment ends badly then I assume we'll be back there again.

Basically, this is the chance McIlrath has always needed. The team needs him desperately, and he's going to have a real opportunity to prove he belongs. Even if Klein comes back, you'd have to assume the Rangers are going to take a harder look at him than Allen. That pretty much guarantees him four games to prove he belongs -- or to at least prove he can stick around.

One way or another, it feels like we'll have an answer on McIlrath soon enough.