Outside of Hugh Jessiman, there hasn't been an NHL Draft selection more polarizing than Dylan McIlrath. The 2010 10th overall pick was criticized from the minute he was drafted, and none of the criticism was his fault. There were better options on the board, plain and simple, and sadly McIlrath has had to answer for a decision he didn't make but one that was made for him.
I covered this a little before this year's draft when I talked about how the Rangers needed to go boom or bust in the 2015 Draft (update: they sort of did). From that story:
An example of a dumb draft pick? That would be 2010, when the Rangers passed on guys like Cam Fowler and Vladimir Tarasenko because they needed a big bully defenseman at the 10th overall slot when you can easily find those guys later in the draft.
Other factors come into play as well. Kyle Jean (remember him?) injured McIlrath in development camp that year, dislocating his kneecap and taking away a year of his development. That's a very little talked about aspect to McIlrath's trajectory, even though it played a major role in why he was delayed from where he should be.
McIlrath was never really going to be a first pairing guy. He was drafted to be a big, bruising defenseman who adds toughness, cleans the crease and takes care of business in his own end. But McIlrath losing a year of development allowed other players to jump ahead of him and the team to have to move on without him.
It should be noted that McIlrath had a very good year in Hartford this year. He was one of the Wolf Pack's standout players in the playoffs, and by all accounts he took a major step forward as a player. He's expected to compete for a role with the Rangers this year, but now that's somewhat in doubt for a few different reasons.
The first is there's a logjam on the Rangers' defensive roster. The Raphael Diaz signing gives the Rangers seven defenseman on the roster if the team decides to keep Kevin Klein (which they shouldn't). And even if the Rangers move Klein, Diaz is more than just a seventh defenseman, he's more than capable of playing even second pairing minutes for the Rangers if needed .
The second problem is a bigger issue for McIlrath, though, and that issue is Brady Skjei. For as good as McIlrath was this year, Skjei is better -- and to be fair he always has been. Skjei's ceiling is much higher than McIlrath's will ever be and he's widely assumed to be NHL ready right now. That makes Skjei a better short and long term option for the team in almost all respects.
Now, it's very likely the Rangers could want Skjei to keep getting top-line minutes in the AHL if there's not enough of a role for him in New York, especially if they keep seven defenseman on the roster. But having McIlrath sit in that seventh role doesn't make much sense, either, and that's even if he makes the team out of camp.
Which, incidentally, brings us to the biggest issue about keeping McIlrath on Broadway: He's waiver eligible this year.
if McIlrath doesn't make the team out of camp he will have to pass through waivers to be sent back down to Hartford, and it's very likely a team that needs some defensive depth (even at the AHL level) would be more than willing to take a free flier on him.
In the essence of not losing him for nothing, the Rangers might have to think about moving him for some type of return. McIlrath should still hold some value, especially for teams looking for toughness, and his age (he's only 23) is a big perk for a team looking for someone with upside. Bigger defenseman always take longer to develop and McIlrath can easily become a third pairing guy in the NHL.
The Rangers, sadly, need to be cautious with him here and protect their investment. Losing him on waivers for nothing would be a mismanagement of assets. Even if it means moving on from a 10th overall pick in the first place.