Dylan McIlrath, best-known throughout Canadian Hockey League circles as "The Undertaker," was privy to the fact a bull's-eye would be on his back after being selected with the 10th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft by the New York Rangers.
But despite the fact he's earned the reputation as the toughest player in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors -- he led the CHL with 19 fights while racking up 169 penalty minutes last season -- the 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman doesn't seem a bit fazed by it all.
"You can't worry about it," McIlrath told NHL.com. "I know I'm a bit of a target going first round, and being a tough guy other guys might want to make a name for themselves. But being tough isn't all about dropping the gloves. It also means getting into the hard areas and working hard."
"It was a little bit surprising going No. 10," he said. "That being said, I knew the Rangers were kind of interested. I was really thinking Dallas (at No. 11) or Anaheim (No. 12) or Phoenix (No. 13) -- anywhere after the Rangers.
"At the (NHL Scouting) Combine, my meeting with New York went really well and on the first day of testing, Gordie Clark (Rangers Director, Player Personnel) took me aside and sat me down and wanted to get to know me a bit more on a personal basis. He felt that I would be valuable in the New York organization, but there were no follow-up meetings. I knew in the back of my mind the Rangers were an option, but come draft day, I really didn't know what to expect, to be honest. I didn't think the Rangers would choose me, but I'm very grateful it worked out that way."
McIlrath was sent back to Moose Jaw on Sept. 24 to spend a third season in the WHL, which is fine with him. The feeling is McIlrath could be the next Jeff Beukeboom -- a big, physical, hard-nosed defender the Rangers have craved for some time. Beukeboom, at 6-5 and 230 pounds, not only won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994, but three others with the Edmonton Oilers. Rangers General Manager Glen Sather coached Beukeboom for much of his six-plus seasons in Edmonton.
"I haven't really heard about their plans with me, but realistically, I'll be back in Moose Jaw for another year of development," McIlrath said. "I'll improve my all-round game. Next year I'll have a good summer and work out hard and try to earn a spot on this team. If that doesn't work, I have a great situation in Moose Jaw and I'll only be 19."
Clark believes a bright future awaits McIlrath in New York.
"This ingredient is missing from the New York Rangers," Clark told the New York Daily News. "When this kid is 22, you're going to see a hell of an NHL hockey player. You're just not going to want to play him. Other teams are not going to want to come into Madison Square Garden."
He got a taste of the good life at the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament earlier this month, prior to joining the Rangers at training camp. McIlrath, in fact, usually was paired with prospect team captain and Ryan McDonagh in Traverse City.
In four games in Traverse City, McIlrath didn't register a point but did come away with an impressive plus-4 rating, with four penalty minutes and seven shots on goal.
"It was a step up from junior, that's for sure," McIlrath said. "In camp in Moose Jaw, I was playing against 15 and 16 year-olds, and then to come to this, with the high-level talent, was kind of a jump for me."
McIlrath said he didn't go out looking to fight anyone in Traverse City; rather, he wanted to play hockey. Really, though, he had no willing dance partner during the five-day event.
"If I got in a fight, that would be great, but I didn't," he said. "I did know a guy from the WHL on Minnesota, but he was kind of making excuses. I was willing, but I guess he wasn't."
While he didn't drop the gloves once in Traverse City, he felt the experience was fantastic.
"I had a lot of anxiety coming into Traverse City and wanted to get off to a good start here in New York," he said. "I really just wanted to gain experience and I think I did that. I thought I got better as the tournament went on. I was a little nervous at the start, but by the end I was fitting right in, so I came away with what I wanted. By the end, I actually felt really comfortable and thought I was at the top of my game. It showed, because I thought I was playing really well."
J.J. Daigneault, who is an assistant coach with the Hartford Wolf Pack and also assisted the prospects in Traverse City, was impressed with McIlrath's poise and determination.
"I was very impressed with his play; he showed basic fundamentals that I teach my defensemen and I liked a lot of things he did, like recovering pucks, absorbing hits, transitioning well, playing good one-on-one and taking care of his own end," Daigneault said. "He's very skilled and big and he's only 18. He's not going to be a Ranger this year and I think he knows that."
Daigneault, an NHL defenseman for 16 seasons, is looking forward to seeing McIlrath after one more season of junior hockey.
"He'll finish out junior and come back here next year and I think he'll be a pretty darn good defenseman one day," Daigneault said. "The Rangers took a chance on Dylan because of his character and toughness and I think, hockey-wise, he's impressed a lot of people."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale