NEW YORK -- Defenseman Dylan McIlrath will get another chance to prove he is deserving of more games and ice time when the New York Rangers play the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, MSG 2, NHL.TV).
McIlrath will replace Kevin Klein, who is unavailable because of a fractured thumb, an injury he sustained Tuesday in a 3-2 loss against the New Jersey Devils.
McIlrath has been a healthy scratch in five of the past eight games, 11 of the past 14, and 30 of 50 overall this season.
He scored his second goal of the season and had a season-high three shots in 14:12 of ice time in the Rangers' 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 25, the last game before the All-Star break. He didn't play Tuesday.
"I'm really focused," McIlrath said. "I want to play my game and not go out of my way to do too much, but that being said I want to make a statement and try to earn a spot in the lineup."
It appeared Wednesday that McIlrath would be allowed multiple opportunities in a row because the Rangers said Klein was out indefinitely. They're still saying that, but after watching him in the morning skate Thursday, coach Alain Vigneault was optimistic for a quick return.
Klein participated in the skate and was taking wrist shots despite wearing a splint on his thumb underneath his glove.
"What we said [Wednesday] was what we thought," Vigneault said. "We didn't know how long it was going to be and he obviously responded very well to meeting the docs and with the split and he was able to handle the puck.
"It's clearly a lot better than what everybody anticipated."
McIlrath said the Rangers players were genuinely surprised to see Klein on the ice for the morning skate.
"He took us by surprise when he was putting on his gear," McIlrath said. "We thought he was kidding."
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist said Klein's shot was still hard despite the split.
"It's hard to begin with, but it shows that he can handle pain," Lundqvist said.
McIlrath, though, will be one of the six New York defensemen tasked with shutting down the Wild on Thursday. Like McIlrath, the slumping Wild are looking to make a statement so they can start to turn around their season and climb back into Stanley Cup Playoff contention.
The Wild are 1-7-1 with 14 goals in their past nine games. They're coming off a 5-3 loss against the New York Islanders on Tuesday. They are one point behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card from the Western Conference.
"For whatever reason, waking up this morning I have a pretty good feeling that our team is going to be able to respond," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We've started every game well in this last little stretch. We've played one good period, two good periods every night, but at some point in the game adversity has struck and we haven't handled it well. But I think tonight we'll be a little more ready and more prepared to handle that."
Yeo said goalie Devan Dubnyk will start. Dubnyk allowed five goals on 30 shots before he was pulled in the third period on Tuesday.
He hesitated to say the Wild need Dubnyk to steal them a game at this point to stop the slump.
"It helps, certainly, but if we're going to sit around and hope for our goalie to get a shutout then we're probably going to be putting ourselves in a tough position," Yeo said. "This is a very good hockey team we're playing and they're going to get some chances. How we respond to that is the most important thing. We can't hope for things to pull us out of it."
Here are the projected lineups:
Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek - Jarret Stoll - Jason Zucker
Justin Fontaine - Erik Haula - Ryan Carter
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser
Scratched: Niklas Backstrom, Kevin Porter, Christian Folin
J.T. Miller - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast
Oscar Lindberg - Kevin Hayes - Viktor Stalberg
Daniel Paille - Dominic Moore - Jayson Megna
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle - Dylan McIlrath
Injured: Kevin Klein (fractured thumb), Rick Nash (bone bruise)
Scratched: Tanner Glass
Status report: Megna is in the Rangers' lineup for Glass. Megna was recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. … Suter will be playing in his 800th game.
Who's hot: Miller has seven goals in the past seven games, giving him 15 this season. He scored each of the Rangers' goals in their 3-2 loss against the Devils on Tuesday. … Coyle has goals in four straight games, giving him 14 for the season.