Having criticized his team in recent days for lacking the requisite amount of toughness in order to be successful in the NHL, head coach Alain Vigneault hopes the Rangers have added the missing ingredient in the person of defenseman Dylan McIlrath.
The Rangers called up McIlrath Wednesday afternoon from Hartford, where he totaled 115 penalty minutes in 24 games this season. Last year, in just 45 games, McIlrath had 125 penalty minutes in the AHL.
In 71 games with Hartford spanning three seasons, McIlrath has 247 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating, along with 12 points (three goals and nine assists).
“He definitely brings size and hopefully some physicality to our game,” Vigneault said of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound blueliner following the optional skate at the Garden Thursday morning. “He’s done that, whether it be in junior and the American League, and hopefully he can do that in this level.”
Vigneault did stress McIlrath’s physicality was not the only reason he was called up.
“I talked [Wednesday] with [Hartford head coach] Ken [Gernander] and talked about the possibility of calling up a defenseman, and [McIlrath’s] name came up. [Gernander] felt the way Dylan had played defensively [and] penalty killing that he was the guy to call up. He’s been improving. We sent him down and [if] we wanted any one of [Gernander’s] defensemen, he was the guy to call up, so trust the coach and call him up.”
The 10th-overall selection in the 2010 draft described his emotions as “pure excitement.”
“Just stepping on that Garden ice, I know it’s just a pregame skate, [but I] couldn’t help but look around,” McIlrath said. “It was the dream I’ve been waiting for [since] draft day and [it’s] something special [so I soaked] it in.”
Still, he is under no illusions about why he was called up. Nor is the man bestowed the moniker “The Undertaker” while playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the notoriously rough Western Hockey League naïve enough to think his fistic abilities won’t be challenged by NHL opponents.
“It’s no surprise; it’s the type of player I am,” McIlrath said. “That’s why they brought me up to add a little bit of that element so I’m not going to do anything out of the ordinary. My game is the grit and sandpaper, so hopefully I can do anything to help the team win.
“If it happens, it happens. The hockey community is a small world. Everyone’s got their scouting reports. It happened when I got to the AHL right away, so we’ll see what happens.”
McIlrath expected to have six family members at the game Thursday. He noted they were flying into New York from Winnipeg.
Brassard bummed out
Vigneault announced left wings Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt were reinserted into the lineup, while defenseman Justin Falk and center Derick Brassard were out.
Brassard, according to Vigneault, has an “inflamed” posterior and is “day-to-day.” Brassard fell down and landed on his backside during the 4-1 loss to Nashville.
He did not participate in Wednesday’s practice in Greenburgh, N.Y.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.