Dylan McIlrath was drafted very early in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and there have been a lot of varied opinions on what his value was to the New York Rangers. To some, McIlrath had the potential to be the next Jeff Beukeboom, and to others, he was just another big, clunky and average defender who shouldn't have been drafted before Cam Fowler.
During Sunday night's victory against the Calgary Flames, McIlrath made his mark in a small way, and he injected something in a Ranger team that has been devoid of passion and spark for the majority of the season.
McIlrath likes to play with an edge, so he will take some costly penalties from time to time, but his hard-nosed brand of hockey will reignite the Rangers as they try and find their way out of mediocrity.
The Broadway Blueshirts have a record of 16-17-1, and they have been unable to hold a record over .500 for an extended period of time. This led to Alain Vigneault commenting about the team's .500 work ethic, because it seemed like the Rangers were quickly alternating wins and losses.
Although the Rangers got the "W" on Sunday, they still have a lot of work to do before fans can declare them de-funked.
If you only looked at the box score of Sunday night's contest vs the Flames, you would likely be satisfied that the Rangers broke their losing streak. Those who watched the game, like this writer, hold a different opinion.
It was an ugly win for the Rangers. The Blueshirts went down early, and they needed to make a comeback to tie the game after going down 2-0 early on.
The Rangers also had to stage a second comeback before overtime and the shootout followed, but before that there was a pivotal moment of the game, that involves the titular character of this story.
All night long McIlrath was mixing it up with various Flames, and eventually he crossed paths with career pugilist and heavyweight Brian McGrattan.
After that it was only a matter of time before the two dropped the gloves, and the two behemoths tangoed at the center of the Madison Square Garden, a venue that has seen its fair share of heavyweight prize fights.
Fights are commonplace in today's NHL, but this fight had a different feel to it. Sportsnet analyst and Marek vs. Wyshynski co-host Jeff Marek sent out this tweet, and it really sums up the magnitude of the fight.
In this situation, McIlrath channels the role of Doug Glatt, an up-and-coming heavyweight looking to make his mark, and McGrattan takes the role of Ross "The Boss" Rhea, a veteran fighter nearing the end of his career.
The bout between the veteran and the rookie was rather timid in nature, as McGrattan could have easily pulverized the inexperienced McIlrath. However, McGrattan honorably helped out his fellow fighter by giving him the experience of mixing it up with a season pro.
He gave McIlrath a chance to show his worth, and the two exchanged pleasantries after the end of the fight. In context, it took a lot of guts for McIlrath to step up and challenge one of the NHL's top fighters, and the act impressed his teammates and gave them a spark.
After the game, Vigneault talked to the media about what the fight meant.
Via the New York Post:
I thought that was a very courageous thing to do. That’s a very big opponent there and a young man that was testing that opponent. … I’m not really sure a fight one way or the other has that [much] impact, but I do think it brings a little emotion to the game and it certainly didn’t hurt.
Although he lost the fight, the act made a big impression on the Rangers. The Blueshirts traditionally give the game's top player the Broadway Hat, and on Sunday the honor went to McIlrath.
It was only one game, but the Blueshirts showed some life with McIlrath in the lineup. He was finishing checks, sticking up for teammates and doing what he could to spark the team. His bout with McGrattan and his willingness to do whatever it takes seemed to be contagious, because players that had been struggling were able to get off the schneid.
In the shootout, Brad Richards, Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot scored, and scoring helped them break their streak of failure in the worst way. While their is no way to prove that there is a correlation between their goal and the McIlrath fight, this much can be said:
The Rangers finally broke their losing streak, and they showed more life and spark last night than they had for the past two weeks. McIlrath's style of play and attitude has the potential to be contagious, and if that happens the Rangers have the potential to go on a massive run.
Wednesday night will be a big test for the Rangers as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it will illustrate whether or not Sunday's spark was an anomaly or not.