NEW YORK -- Although he's playing sparingly, New York Rangers rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath is figuring out the value of his hard and heavy shot, and he's beginning to understand how it might be a ticket to a longer stay in the lineup.
"As long as I'm getting it off and getting it to the net good things can happen," said McIlrath, who will play in his 21st game of the season Thursday against the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, MSG 2, NHL.TV). "It is a heavier shot, so obviously playing with Keith [Yandle], he's able to look a guy off and it's giving me more time to get those shots off. That helps me a lot and I'm trying to use that to my advantage."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the coaching staff has been trying to get all the defensemen to have a quick-shot mentality. He indicated McIlrath has been among the best at buying in.
McIlrath scored a goal on a season-high three shots in a 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 25. He is averaging approximately one shot on goal per game (21 shots in 20 games, 1.05 per game) despite playing 15:23 per game.
By comparison, Kevin Klein, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal each play more than 19 minutes per game and none of them are averaging one shot on goal per game.
McIlrath also averaged 1.07 shots on goal per game in 180 games with Hartford of the American Hockey League.
"As everybody knows, everybody packs in the front of the net, it's so hard to get shots through, and our whole 'D' group, we've been trying to get them to release it quicker," Vigneault said. "Dylan, to his credit, does a real good job of getting it away quickly and it's a heavy shot too. So any time he can do that we want him to do it."
McIlrath said he's always had a heavy shot, but he's learned through repetition how to properly get it off at the pro level.
"I had to learn to keep my head up and not just get the puck, head down and bear down," McIlrath said. "I definitely have worked on that a lot."
He only hesitates now when he sees the shooting lane is filled or about to be filled because the last thing he wants is to have it go off of someone's shin guards, leading to an odd-man rush the other way.
"You have to give a lot of credit to the Hartford coaches who coached him for those three years," Vigneault said. "They really improved his skill level, not just skating but his puck handling and his shot. With us, the more he plays, the more experience and the better he's going to get."