Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rangers 2010 First Round Pick Dylan McIlrath Signs ATO, Will Join Whale This Week

According to the AHL transactions page , the Rangers have signed 2010 first round pick Dylan McIlrath to an Amateur Tryout (ATO) agreement with the Connecticut Whale.  Per Brian Ring  McIlrath is expected to report to the team this week.  McIlrath, 18, had 5 goals, 18 assists and 153 penalty minutes in 62 games during the regular season for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.  In the playoffs McIlrath was scoreless in their six game first round defeat to the Kooteany Ice.

The ATO allows McIlrath to play with the team this season and during the playoffs without having any impact on his entry-level contract which officially starts next season.  Dylan is allowed to play in the AHL despite being under 20 because his Junior team has finished their season, but next season he will have to either be in the NHL or back in the WHL.  Being around the professional game should be a very good experience for McIlrath and give him another sense of what it will take for him to be a professional player.  Look for Wade Redden to take McIlrath under his wing as he has done with all the young defenders for the Whale this season.

Locking Up Michael Sauer Should Be A Rangers Priority This Summer

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
There have been a number of pleasant surprises for the New York Rangers during this season, but few if any have been as good as the play of rookie defenseman Michael Sauer. Coming into the season Sauer was seen by many as an afterthought even to make the roster.  His play throughout the year has not only changed that thinking, but made him a critical part of the Rangers defensive core now and into the future.  The 23-year-old defender has played himself into the top four on defense and has been arguably the best defender on the club the second half of the season.
There has been a lot of discussion this year about the necessary contracts for Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky along with some for Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov but very little attention has been paid to the fact that Michael Sauer is also on that RFA list.  He will never be the flashy player on that list, the big name or the big producer but his steadiness this season has made him as important as any of those guys to the position the Rangers are in.  Normally I look at players have their best season in a contract year with skepticism and only want to give them a one year contract to prove it again, but with Sauer I don’t have those doubts because of that level of consistency he has played with every game this year.
Every night he steps on the ice you know you are getting a player with tremendous defensive awareness, positioning and attention to the basics.  Add to that a man who loves to hit, clears the crease and fights to defend himself and his teammates and you get someone you have to keep around this summer. 
What has come along more than most would have expected is his offensive contributions.  As with everything Sauer does his offensive improvement and impact is beyond the boxscore and stems from his intelligence.  He does a tremendous job of reading the play and knowing when to pinch to keep possession alive, when to slide down for a potential scoring chance and when to back out and play defense.  Those traits were on display Monday night against Boston as Sauer read the play beautifully and slid down to a position where he was able to take advantage of the hustle by the forwards behind the net and beat Tim Thomas for his second game winning goal of the season.  The goal was his third to go with 11 assists in 74 games this season while playing to a tremendous +18 rating.
Where would the Rangers be without Michael Sauer this season?  I for one do not want to find out as this summer the team should lock up the 23-year-old defender for at least two seasons at a price of 1-1.2 million per year.

Rangers Way Forward Without Callahan Is As A Unit

There is no good time to ever lose a player like Ryan Callahan from your lineup.  With Callahan down the team loses an excellent penalty killer, one of your best forecheckers, a key power play guy, one of their leading point getters, their second leading goal scorer, an unquestioned leadership figure and a lead by example/leave it all out there every night player.  There is no one player that can fill the void that him being out creates both on and off the ice.  What there is instead is a group of players that all season have found a way to persevere in the face of injury after injury and use that adversity to bring them together as a unit to get to the brink of making the playoffs.  What there is left behind without Callahan is a unit that makes no excuses and has an identity of how they must play in order to be successful. 
While losing Callahan is a huge blow to all of those things the team has to take comfort in the fact that they succeeded without him before and that the way he went down was in the mold of the identity they have created for themselves this season.  The beauty of this team has been about their willingness to sacrifice for one another whether it be statistically or purely with their bodies to do whatever it takes to win games and it was in that spirit that they lost their leader Monday night to a broken ankle.  It will also be in that spirit that they rally through it the best they can to replace the guy who most epitomizes the mentality that the team is trying instill as the organizational philosophy for how players will play.
“There’s nothing good about this,” head coach John Tortorella told reporters when confirming the news Tuesday. “But I think you need to try and turn it into something that will help your team even more during this crunch time. That’s the way we are going to approach it. This could galvanize our team even more.”
It is up to all the other guys in the locker room to embrace the challenge of losing the most consistent forward on the team and for all to do their part to be a little more like Ryan Callahan with each shift they step on the ice.  They did that to the tune of a 10-7-2 record when he was injured in December, but this is playoff time and the games are only going to be tougher and the loss felt even more.  There is no reason to write off this team even with the loss of Ryan Callahan because the basis for the Rangers success this season has been found in their resilience, fight and determination and they will continue to exert those now.
It will take a collective effort to rise to this challenge and there is nothing the Rangers have done better this season than play collectively.  They will need more from the Boyle, Prust, Fedotenko, Stepan, Anisimov for sure, but the four guys who really need to rise to the offensive challenge are Gaborik, Dubinsky, Prospal and Wolski.  Wolski might be the most surprising player in that group, but he is also one of the most offensively talented forwards on the team and his skill level was critical to the comeback win against Boston.  Dubinsky and Prospal are crucial both for their production but also for their ability to lead the team in their own ways.  Each has a very good feel for the emotional pulse of this team and have the ability to lift this team with that energy and fire when they play at the top of their game.
Finally there is Marian Gaborik.  In reacting to the loss of Callahan Gaborik had the following to say…
“Obviously he’s one of the best players on the team, and it’s a huge loss. We just have to play for him and try to go as far as we can so that he can hopefully come back.”
There is no forward on this team that has the ability to put the team on his back offensively in the way that Marian Gaborik can because at his best he is top scorer in this league and just as importantly a threat that must be accounted for.  He will not fill all the roles of Callahan, but others will chip in where the energy and leadership aspects go and the Gaborik must elevate his offense to alleviate the burden from others in pressing to find goals.  If he can do that, then the Rangers will be fine.
This team has been tested repeatedly this season through the adversity of injury and this is yet another test.  This test does come at the worst possible point in the season, but that only makes the challenge larger and the sweetness of the accomplishment better when they succeed in the face of it.  They are now without their leader, their most consistent forward and an irreplaceable piece to this club, but they will find a way to fight through it; they always do.