NY Rangers: McIlrath Trade Was a Long-Time Coming
Last week, the New York Rangers placed defenseman Dylan McIlrath on waivers for the purpose of sending him down to the Hartford Wolfpack. Unlike Brady Skjei, the only Rangers’ defenseman with a two-way contract, McIlrath handcuffed the Rangers and was forced to clear waivers before being sent down, a risk General Manager Jeff Gorton was willing to take. Well, it all worked out, as 29 other teams decided to pass on the Rangers’ 2010 tenth-overall draft pick – until Gorton cut a deal with Florida Panthers’ GM, Tim Rowe on Tuesday.
McIlrath was dealt to Florida in exchange for Steven Kampfer and a conditional 2018 seventh-round draft pick. This is absolutely astounding. One week after being completely undesirable to the rest of the league, another professional hockey team willingly exchanged another player for him.
When the Rangers first drafted McIlrath, they knew the situation they were getting themselves into. He’s an intimidating 6’5”, 220-pound defenseman with a monster slap shot. However, the organization knew full-well that his skating abilities were to be desired if he was to make it to the NHL level. For six years, the Rangers did all they could to help McIlrath improve on his skating and overall game. Sure, he’s only 24-years old now, and there is still room for some improvement. But how much improvement? Evidently, Gorton determined it was not much…
I’m a bit surprised this trade happened, and not because McIlrath was traded, but because he was traded after six years. I thought he would have been traded much sooner than this. The Rangers could have reaped a much higher reward for the former first-rounder had he been traded earlier on in his career, before we knew he would not cut it by now. McIlrath spent two seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL putting up some good numbers for a stay-at-home defenseman (114 games played, 8 goals, 38 assists). With the Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolfpack, his numbers dropped significantly. But his purpose was not to put up points; whatever points he accumulated were merely a plus. The Rangers knew he wasn’t an offensive-defenseman, and that he would be more of a shut-down defender, given his size and strength. His purpose was to improve his skating and overall game so that he could be a formidable defenseman upon being called up to the Rangers.
Last season, the Rangers gave Dylan the opportunity to prove how his development over the previous five years had gone. He appeared in 34 games last season. Again, a look at his point production will not give a good view on his performance, because that is not his purpose. But what we’ve observed is that he was solid a lot of the time, but his skating impediments continually left him burned and led to great opportunities for opponents to cash in on. Though he is not an offensive-minded defenseman, it is still important for a defender to be able to move the puck quickly and efficiently out of their own zone. This was another struggling area for the young blue liner.
Thus, after six years of development and Dylan McIlrath failing to maximize his potential to desirable levels, he was finally cut loose for Steven Kampfer. Will McIlrath be united in a defensive pairing with former Rangers’ teammate, Keith Yandle? If he does, will he prosper, or will his blunders simply be covered up by Yandle’s exceptional puck-moving skills? My guess is “yes”, and quite simply, he will prove to be a better fit with Florida than he will on Broadway under Alain Vigneault’s fast-paced systems – a difference in style of play, as the Rangers’ head coach alluded to in a press conference on Tuesday.
Kampfer, on the other hand, is considered to be an offensive-minded defenseman, having a stature of 5’11” and just over 190 pounds. Like McIlrath’s skating and overall development, Kampfer’s numbers are to be desired, given the type of player he has the potential to be. But at 28-years old, and having spent very limited time in the NHL, Kampfer may turn out to be a career AHL player. Nevertheless, the swap makes sense for both teams. Kampfer may benefit from such a speedy system that the Rangers implement while providing organizational depth to the club, while McIlrath could benefit from a change of scenery and a desire to prove the Rangers wrong for dealing him. What if Kampfer does not pan out for the Rangers? Well, just remember that McIlrath cleared waivers without being claimed by 29 other clubs. Consider Kampfer a bonus, and the possible 2018 pick a double bonus, even if it’s just a seventh-round pick (hey, you never know – “The King” was a former seventh-rounder).
Fun fact: during the 2010-11 season while on the Boston Bruins, Kampfer was just three games short of having his name carved on the Stanley Cup. In order for a player’s name to appear on the Stanley Cup, that player must have played at least half of the regular season games with the winning team and still be on the winning team after the NHL trade deadline, or a player must have played at least one game in the Stanley Cup Finals for the winning team. Kampfer appeared in only 38 games that season for the Bruins, and did not play during the entire span of the postseason.
Given how well the Rangers have been playing, save for Tuesday night’s disappointing loss, Kampfer will be eager to prove he deserves a chance in the NHL, and to do all he can to finally capture the game’s most coveted piece of hardware…