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McIlrath, Lindberg Adjusting to Life in the NHL

by Matthew Calamia / New York Rangers

The All-Star Game has passed and the trade deadline is looming, but for Dylan McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg, each day is a new experience.

McIlrath and Lindberg entered training camp as two bubble players, but have since solidified their spots on a Rangers' roster that enters Friday night's game on a four-game winning streak and in second place in the Metropolitan Division.

McIlrath, the Rangers' 2010 first-round pick, said his goal entering the season was to make the team and stay as long as possible, while working to gain the coaching staff's trust to slot a first-year player into the mix in one of the NHL's top defensive units.

"My expectations coming in was just stay up as long as possible and earn the coach's trust," McIlrath said Friday morning. "I felt with me playing a good stretch of games there, I think I accomplished earning their trust and being able to stay up and being confident I'll be here the rest of the year."

McIlrath has appeared in 23 games this season, which has been an adjustment in itself. Outside of an injury-shortened season in 2012-13, McIlrath has been a regular on all the teams he's played on. McIlrath, though, has remained positive because he knows what is at stake.

"It's a challenge for sure, but it's easy to make sure you're working hard because you know what's at stake," he said. "[Playing in the NHL] is what I've dreamed for all my life so I never want to take it for granted. I try and stay physically sharp and then it's also a mental toughness, just making sure you're going to be ready when you do step in the lineup."

Lindberg, meanwhile, got off to a blazing NHL start with four goals in his first three games this season. But while the offense has slowed down — he still has 11 goals and 10 assists in 51 games — the 24-year-old said he's more pleased with his game in January and February than he was in October and November.

"This is probably the way I was expecting the season to go," Lindberg said Friday. "The start I had was not what I was expecting. The puck was coming to me every time I was in the offensive zone. I still think I'm playing better hockey now than I did at the start of the season, but the points were coming. They're not coming in the same way now, but I still think I'm a better player now than I was at the beginning of the season."

Lindberg said his biggest adjustment thus far has been the schedule. After spending two full seasons with Hartford in the AHL, Lindberg has had to get used to playing every other night, as opposed to just on the weekend.

"It's a lot of games in the AHL, but it's way different here because you're playing every other night," he said. "In the AHL, you have the whole week to prepare and get all those games on the weekend. You've got to go at it every night. Just being consistent and have that focus every night."

While the adjustments are still being made on the ice, off the ice McIlrath has said he's feeling like just one of the boys.

"It's good to be familiar in the room and having that comfort level," the defenseman said. "Having the guys — you're just one of the guys. You're not just the rookie that has to be shy. I can be kind of myself now. Everyone's been great to me the whole time so kudos to the guys in here for having a great locker room."

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