It was impossible for Dylan McIlrath to contain how thrilled he is to be making his NHL debut this evening when he met with reporters following the Rangers' morning skate at Madison Square Garden. The wide eyes, the bright smile, the words he spoke, all were clear indications of how the 21 year-old former first round pick felt about being called up from the minor leagues to face the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.
"Just stepping on that Garden ice, even for just a pre-game skate, I couldn't help but look around because it's the dream I've been waiting for since draft day, it's something special so I soaked it in," shared McIlrath, the tenth overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft.
McIlrath received a call from Hartford head coach Ken Gernander Wednesday afternoon and informed that he was being recalled by the Rangers. After putting the phone down, McIlrath admitted that he let the incredible feeling of what was taking place wash over him before he regrouped and began calling family and friends. He will have about ten family members, including his parents, in attendance at The Garden tonight---not an easy feat since his family resides in Manitoba, out in Western Canada.
"I was shocked, really," McIlrath told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "It was in the back of my mind (that he could get called up at some point), and became more of a reality I guess when (Marc Staal) was injured. That left the team with only six D, so maybe I started thinking about it more after he got hurt. I know they had a good, solid seven D here, so I was waiting my turn. It was important to be patient."
A second-year pro who missed considerable time last season following off-season knee surgery, McIlrath has been 100 percent healthy this year and his game has grown by leaps and bounds as such. He had three goals and seven points in 24 games with Hartford, to go along with a league-leading 115 penalty minutes. McIlrath was playing in all important game situations as one of the Wolf Pack's most important players.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said that he spoke with Gernander about which Hartford defenseman was playing the best and was most deserving of a call up to the NHL, and was told McIlrath was his man.
"The way Dylan had played defensively and penalty killing he was the guy to call up," the head coach said Thursday. "He's been improving since we sent him down. He definitely brings size and hopefully some physicality to our game. He's done that in Junior and the American League and hopefully he'll do it at this level."
Having a well-earned reputation along the way as willing and feared fighter, McIlrath is ready for all challenges he may face tonight and moving forward in the NHL.
"If it happens, it happens," responded McIlrath. "Obviously the hockey community is a small world so everyone has their scouting reports. It happened when I came into the AHL right away where I was tested early, so we'll see what happens."
McIlrath will take the place of Justin Falk, who will be a healthy scratch this evening; and the rookie will wear uniform No. 42.
It may sound funny, but it's no joke to Derick Brassard. The Blueshirts' center hurt his backside after crashing to the ice Tuesday night, and after missing practice Wednesday he will not be able to play tonight against his former team. Vigneault said that Brassard is feeling stiff and is listed as day-to-day with this injury.
Veterans Taylor Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot will return to the Rangers lineup against Columbus with both Brassard and Ryan Callahan (sprained knee) sidelined by injury.
RETURN TO NEW YORK
Former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky said this trip to MSG is the first time he's been back in New York City since the July 2012 trade. While tonight will be emotional for him, he said he'll temper the emotions because there are two points on the line for both teams.
"Coming in, it's different for sure. It's exciting," Dubinsky told reporters following Columbus' skate at MSG. "I look forward to a big challenge tonight. It's a huge game, an important game and that makes it that much better."
Dubinsky said he's kept in touch with several former teammates, and had dinner with several last night.
"I grew up with these guys. A lot of us were drafted together or played in Hartford together and then played five or six years with the Rangers together, so [I'm] definitely keeping in contact with them," Dubinsky said. "It's just — we try not to talk about hockey too much. It's more just friendly things, family things."
Artem Anisimov, who traded along with Dubinsky and defenseman Tim Erixon, said it is strange coming into MSG as a visitor. He said facing the Rangers in New York has a different feel than when the two teams met last year in Columbus.
"The Rangers were my first NHL team and first home building in Madison Square Garden," Anisimov told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "Coming back here is a weird feeling. I don't know how to describe it."