McIlrath looks back at Traverse City

2010 first-round pick describes his first experience in Rangers uniform

Monday, 09.20.2010 / 10:22 AM / Team
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McIlrath looks back at Traverse City
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Prior to his trip to Michigan for the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, newyorkrangers.com asked 2010 first-round pick Dylan McIlrath to record his thoughts throughout the process and write about his experience after it was over. Here is what Dylan was kind enough to provide upon his arrival at the Rangers’ main training camp last Friday.

By Dylan McIlrath, Special to newyorkrangers.com

On Thursday, Sept., 9, I left the Moose Jaw training camp and  got on a plane in Regina, Saskatchewan, to Minneapolis. From there, I flew to New York to join the guys who were going to Traverse City with the Rangers. I only had one night in New York, and then in the morning we all did our medicals before going off on the team plane to Traverse City later in the day.

The whole flight was very first-class and there was great service on the plane. I have never experienced anything like it. In Moose Jaw, we don't fly at all. We have a little bus we take that's just a normal little Greyhound, so this was definitely a step up from what I was used to.

Dylan McIlrath rushes to break up a 2-on-1 after breaking his stick during the Rangers prospects' game against Carolina. McIlrath wore a Rangers jersey for the first time in competition during the four-game Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
Once the games started, it was definitely eye-opening, coming from Moose Jaw, where I was playing against 15 and 16-year-olds. This was a pretty big step up to be playing against older men and for the first couple of shifts against Columbus, I was just trying not to make a mistake. But by the end of the game, I was trying to make good plays and I felt that as the game went on, I really improved.

I saw a lot of people I knew out there, because there were a lot of free agents who got tryouts as well as a lot of guys from the WHL who got drafted and were playing in the tournament. It was kind of nice playing against those familiar faces. I had a couple of Moose Jaw teammates in this tournament, too. Thomas Frazee was playing for Dallas, and Antonin Honejsek was playing for Detroit. It was nice to see them do well, but it was hard competing against them, too. The WHL is a great league and they had a lot of guys showcasing it in this tournament.

Some people asked me why I didn't get into any fights during the tournament, but it wasn't like I was shying away from any fights. I was getting into the hard areas, and if I got in a fight, I would have done it. I was up for the challenge, but the opportunity never really arose. I might have been beat to it a couple of times by my teammates because Randy McNaught went against two tough guys, and Jason Wilson did as well.

My mindset wasn't that I was there to fight everyone in the tournament. I just wanted to play hockey. If I got in a fight, that would be great, but as it turned out, I didn't. In the Minnesota game, there was a guy I knew from the WHL, who was kind of making excuses about  why he wasn't going to go with me. I was willing, but I guess he wasn’t.

Each team we played against was unique. Columbus was a bigger, more physical team. Carolina was more defensive, and they didn't pressure you too much, so you had a lot of time. Minnesota was a veteran team. They were all tough competition, and that showed because almost all of the scores were really close. We squeaked one through against Columbus and lost by one goal to Carolina and Minnesota.

One of the best parts of the tournament was being paired with our team captain, Ryan McDonagh. He is a great player. He has great poise with the puck. He's very patient and he's a great leader. I took a lot of things from him and picked a lot up from his game during the whole week in Traverse City. He taught me a lot in a short period of time. I thought we really paired up well together and had good chemistry throughout the tournament.

I was also happy that I finished the tournament plus-4, because that's one stat that I take pride in. I had a pretty good plus-minus last year in Moose Jazw, but in the year before I had a pretty weak plus-minus. So that was one area that I wanted to improve last season. I thought I did that very well. Coming into things like Traverse City, you just want to try not to get scored against. My offensive game is still improving and maybe I don't get too many points, but I like to get lots of plusses.

I have to admit, I had a lot of anxiety coming into Traverse City. I wanted to get off to a good, fresh start here in New York. In the Traverse City tournament, I really just wanted to gain experience and I think I did that. I thought I got better as the tournament went on. I was a little nervous at the start, but by the end, I was fitting right in, so I came away with what I wanted to come away with. By the end, I actually felt really comfortable and I thought I was at the top of my game. It showed, because I thought I was playing really well.

Going to Traverse City definitely made it more comfortable for me to come into the main camp. I knew some of the management and the players pretty well before the main camp started, although looking at the testing, it still made me kind of nervous on the first day.

Being at the Rangers' main camp is something I have dreamed about my whole life. Getting drafted is one thing, but actually stepping in with NHL players is quite another. It's quite a sight to see all the big names and actually meeting them and shaking their hands. I realized right away that they are all really good guys and I look forward to knowing all of them on a personal basis.



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