Relax New York Rangers Fans, You're Going To Love Dylan McIlrath

Mike SalernoCorrespondent IJune 26, 2010

"With the 10th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Rangers select, from the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors, Dylan McIlrath."

Wait, what?

Yep, those same Rangers from 2009-10 who couldn't buy a goal with all the money they wasted over the years on Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Petr Nedved (twice), Theo Fleury, Anson Carter, Alex Kovalev (also twice), and many more took a big, mean defenseman with their first-round pick tonight, much to the surprise of, well, everyone.

As the first few selections of the 2010 NHL Draft unfolded, it became apparent that talented forwards were held at a premium, at the expense of high-profile defensive prospects Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley, who were consensus top five selections in everyone's mock drafts.

With Fowler and Gormley still on the board, Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark went with McIlrath, the 6'4", 212 lb. defenseman from the WHL with the 10th pick. The team's selection was met with immediate outrage by its loyal fanbase, including yours truly. And for good reason, or so we thought.

After all, the Rangers' immediate need was in the offensive zone, not on the blue line. A team that finished 16th in goals per game—an inflated ranking thanks to a late-season surge—had a serious need for a prospect who could find the back of the net.

Apparently, so did eight of the first nine teams in the draft. By the time the Rangers were on the clock with the 10th pick, Alexander Burmistrov, Nino Niederreiter, and Jeff Skinner, who were widely assumed to be three of the team's top choices, were all gone.

Clark and Blueshirts' oft-criticized general manager Glen Sather were stuck without a viable way to fill the organization's lack of offense. So they went out and filled a need that isn't nearly as publicized: toughness.

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Did they explore their options via trade? Of course they did, as any team would. But according to Sather, via the Rangers' official Twitter account , they got their man.

Last year, McIlrath led all of Canadian Junior Hockey with 19 fighting majors. Who was in second place? Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick courtesy of the Florida Panthers, dropped the mittens six times.

For the mathematically impaired, that's less than one third of McIlrath's total. Now, that's not to say that the Rangers got themselves a goon, per se. The kid who scouts often refer to as "The Undertaker" just isn't afraid of anybody. Seriously, YouTube this guy . Not someone I'd want to dance with.

Fellow former Rangers' Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Frank Castaldi , one of the very few in the Rangers' Bleacher Report community (I'd link you to it, but I don't want to waste your time) who actually knows the game, texted me shortly after the announcement by Clark, convinced we had just drafted the next Jeff Beukeboom .

He's not wrong. McIlrath's got potential to be a belligerent shut-down defenseman who plays the game with a complete disregard for the safety of those in a different sweater.

But this selection stands for something bigger than just one big bruiser. It signifies the end of a fatal flaw that captivated the Rangers' scouting system for the better part of 15 years. They have stopped looking for the next Brian Leetch (you're damn right I just linked that video. That's my favorite goal in Rangers' history).

Since Sather traded Leetch to Toronto in 2004, the team had been on a relentless search for the next great puck-moving, offensively-gifted defenseman. They wasted plenty of years, prospects and money on players like Tom Poti, Michal Rozsival, and Wade Redden, to name a few, hoping each time that they'd energize an anemic offense from the blue line.

Enough already! The term "offensive defenseman" is after all, an oxymoron. I can't stand it anymore. Let the defensemen defend and find a way to promote offense with your forwards, you know, the guys that are paid to carry the majority of your offense? If I hear the phrase "power-play quarterback" to describe one more potential Ranger, I swear I'm heading straight for the Los Angeles Kings bandwagon.

Note: Mr. Del Zotto , you are exempt from this since you seem to be aware of your surroundings within 15 feet of your own net.

Passing on Fowler and Gormley was more of a shock to the hockey community, and McIlrath himself , than his high selection.

"To be honest, I’m a little surprised,” said McIlrath in his first interview as a professional with NHL.com. “But in the back of my mind, I knew they were a team that was interested. But with the other teams (Dallas, Anaheim, Vancouver, Florida), I thought it might be one of them."

Bob McKenzie of TSN said via Twitter that the defenseman was expected to be off the board by the 15th pick.

Many Rangers fans were upset that Sather & Co. didn't trade down to get him, but with that in mind, how far could they have afforded to drop?

No, this was the right pick at the right time for the Blueshirts. Is there still a significant lack of scoring? Sure there is. And newsflash: Ilya Kovalchuk isn't the answer. The influx of young talented forwards such as Chris Kreider, Evgeny Grachev, Artem Anisimov, and Derek Stepan will remedy that problem, in due time. Don't be surprised if Clark adds at least one more name to this list tomorrow afternoon, too.

But tonight, Clark took another step solidifying the post-Redden/Roszival blue line in Gotham. Just make sure you remember how angry you initially were when you heard he was drafted the first time he catches John Tavares with his head down. You'll feel that much better about it.

Be patient, Rangers fans. And trust Gordie Clark. He's the key to this team's eventual success.

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