"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.
"I feel like I'm my normal self out there. It's great to be out on the ice healthy for a change," McIlrath said. "The motto is great for this year for everyone, but me especially: 'Clean slate.' I get to keep everything in the past and I'm looking forward to making a good impression on the new brass."
There is a silver lining for McIlrath if he doesn't make the opening-night roster in that he'll get to return to Connecticut to work with assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom. The Rangers are hoping McIlrath can be the second coming of Beukeboom, who was one of the tougher defenseman of his generation because of his strength, power and mean streak.
Beukeboom had 1,890 penalty minutes in 804 regular-season games, and won the Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers three times and was on the Rangers' 1994 championship team.
"He's a perfect role model for me," McIlrath said of Beukeboom. "He's a defenseman that was mean and hard to play against. That's what the Rangers want me to be and what I know I can be. It's just a perfect fit."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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