“They’ve got a lot of veteran [defensemen], a lot of guys with a lot of years, and if I’m going to make this team I’m going to have to beat a good player out,” McIlrath said Friday. “That’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I just want to make the coaches and the management have a tough decision at the end of the day.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Glen Sather would like to see the team’s first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2010 NHL Draft make the jump, but with at least six veteran defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart at the start of training camp, McIlrath still seems like a longshot to make the club.
The Rangers already have a top-six that includes Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman. They traded for Justin Falk in June, and also have Stu Bickel, Danny Syvret and Aaron Johnson in training camp.
McIlrath, though, thinks he has as good a shot to make the team as anybody.
“I don’t feel pressured that they’re going to rush me, but they told me they want me to be here,” McIlrath said. “If I’m ready they’re definitely going to give me a shot. I just have to prove to them that I can play at this level and hopefully fill a role that they need.”
A year ago, McIlrath couldn’t say the same thing, and it’s not because there was no NHL training camp because of the lockout. He had surgery on July 6, 2012 to repair a dislocated knee cap and was sidelined for the first 29 games of the American Hockey League season.
McIlrath returned to play in 45 games, and had five assists and was third among AHL rookies with 125 penalty minutes, showing the mean streak the Rangers want to see from him at the NHL level.
McIlrath said he’s 100-percent healthy now and feels he has no limitations.