Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First round draft spotlight: Dylan McIlrath

Dylan McIlrath, D Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
6-4, 212
Born: April 20, 1992 in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Shoots: Right

Scouting report: Fearsome fighter and shutdown 'D' is a big open-ice hitter and the absolute toughest player in the draft, but a lot of scouts say he has an interesting upside, too.

Strengths: Big, wide body with room for another 20-30 pounds when he's at his physical peak. Very good upper body strength; uses it to staple wingers along the boards or to stand in and give/absorb punches while fighting. Biggest wingspan of any player in the 2010 draft class with an 83-inch reach; allows him to effectively employ a pokecheck on defense, and also comes in very handy when fighting; he ragdolls opponents and keeps them at arm's length while pounding them. Straight-line speed is above average; can get up the ice well once he gets going. A feared open-ice hitter; reads the play well and anticipates where an opponent will be, then lowers the boom. Very good defensive sense- understands his positioning and clears the crease with abandon. Loves the physical aspect of hockey; wants to go out and punish opponents, yet doesn't run around the ice out of control...exhibits measured aggression. Possesses a cannon for a point shot; takes a while on the windup, but the drive is low, heavy and deflectable. After veteran Travis Hamonic was traded to Brandon, was given a bigger role on offense and embraced it, finishing the season with 24 points after having almost zero production before Christmas. Relishes the fighting element of his game-- welcomes any challenger and ended up pounding enough guys early in the season that word got out and he had a relatively quiet second half. Some say he's the most effective and feared fighter to come out of the WHL since Scott Parker in the late-90's. Can throw with both hands; punches hard and can take down an opponent with one solid connection. Creates space for his defense partner; makes opponents think twice when he's on the ice-- players keep their heads on a swivel and account for 'Big Mac' at all times. Very good character and work ethic; highly respected in the dressing room-- a leader. Nasty disposition on the ice, calm and laid-back off it.

Weaknesses: First-step quickness is lacking; needs work on his lateral movement and change of direction. Stiff in the hips; not as fluid when pivoting/transitioning. Doesn't seem to see the ice very well and may lack the proper instincts to be a top-pairing 'D' and power play guy at the next level. Only starting to hone his first pass skills and realizing that he needs to be more effective on the breakout. Defensive positioning and decision-making still need work; can get a little scrambly, and when he does, his flaws are exposed for all to see.

Style compares to: If he continues to develop, Shea Weber or Dion Phaneuf. If he stays where he is/flatlines, Adam Foote with a little Matt Carkner thrown in for good measure.

Draft prediction: 17th overall to Colorado. The Avalanche are building a skill team, but a player of McIlrath's style and potential makes a lot of sense here. People who only focus on his toughness and current projection are too fixated on what he is and not what he could be. Sure, there's a more than average chance that McIlrath will never be more than a baggage-smashing 4/5 at the NHL level, but that does not take into account the kind of real progression he made from the end of the 08-09 season to where he is now. This is a kid that more than a few scouts see is still developing, and even if he doesn't develop the offensive side of his game will be a solid NHL contributor for years. Perhaps the Bruins don't need another lower-end d-man, but in today's NHL , teams are always going to pay a premium for toughness, especially where there is some skill involved. If Matt Kassian was a second-round pick (Minnesota '05) then McIlrath is a solid first-rounder without a doubt. Oh, and he's an even better fighter than Kassian was, too.
Other possibilities here: Nick Bjugstad, Brock Nelson, and on the defensive side of things, possibly Mark Pysyk and Jon Merrill. Denver University-bound Beau Bennett is another intriguing option, especially the thought of putting him with Paul Stastny or Matt Duchene one day. Want another off-the-board possibility? How about Ottawa scoring winger Tyler Toffoli? He's a safer option than underachieving forward John McFarland is right here, but if Duchene and McFarland could somehow click together down the road, then look out.

Projection: Solid No. 4 at the very least, and could develop into a No. 2 if his offensive game picks up more. But what McIlrath will give a team goes well beyond the numbers and measurables because he's a player who can alter the tempo and flow of a game with one big shift. Like Milan Lucic, he can make a thundering hit, blast someone in a fight and conceivably score a goal or set one up all in the span of a minute or so, which is rare for any player. McIlrath made a significant leap in his development, production and toughness from his first WHL season to second, and some talent evaluators think he has the potential to keep his upward development curve going and that the best is yet to come. For all the knocks on his "lack" of offense, he scored as many points as Pysyk (albeit in fewer games, but didn't really get the chance to play that role until after Christmas) and got more points than Derek Forbort, who gets hailed almost universally for his great upside but really didn't generate a ton of offense when you get down to it. I really think this guy has been sold short by fans who haven't really seen him or know a lot about him beyond his defensive acumen and toughness, but who have decided that he's another Mark Stuart. Maybe so, but if he's more than that (and you have to admit-- the numbers from 08-09 to 09-10 are saying something) then people will be kicking themselves for years because he has it in him to be a momentum-changer for his team.

Background: Central Scouting's 17th-ranked North American on their final list. Born and raised in Winnipeg, but parents Mike and Jean McIlrath are originally both from Moose Jaw. Older brother, Sean. Played forward/wing in minor and midget before switching to defense (at coach's behest because of surplus of forwards) the year before he jumped to the WHL. Went from one goal, four points in 53 games and a -22 as a rookie in 08-09 to seven goals, 24 points and a +19 in 65 games this year. Named Moose Jaw's "Most Improved Player" in 2009. Nicknamed "The Monster From Winnipeg" by Moose Jaw announcer James Gallo. Also goes by "The Undertaker", "Freight Train From Winnipeg", "Big Mac" and "Big Mac Truck" Fought Alex Petrovic in the 2010 CHL Top Prospects Game. Favorite NHL team growing up: Montreal Canadiens Favorite NHL player: Shea Weber


“Big and mean, old-time typical NHL defenseman. He scares people not only with some frequent fights he might get in, but with 6-4, 212 lbs. straight ahead speed and offensive ability to match. Often, and in a very complimentary sense, makes puck carriers cut to the other side of the ice with his intimidating size.”- NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire to NHL.com

“An old school defensemen who plays hard and very physical. A great deal of untapped potential that can be used in shut down situations as well as on the offensive side of the puck.” - Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Dave Hunchak to NHL.com

"Offensive ability is not yet there, but many are selling his upside short. Shows flashes of jumping into the offense smartly and ability to shoot the puck. Feet are just a little bit slow. But his stride got longer this season and he does have some decent straight line speed that helps him recover if he get surprised by a speedy forward. (But yes, if a scout writes "good recovery speed" down as a note, that is not really a positive thing.) Underrated first pass ability - just keeps it simple and gets it out of trouble with reliability. That's all he'll need to be an effective NHLer."- Red Line Report's Mike Remmerde in his NHL Draft Notes blog; June, 2010

"I love this guy and I think he'll surprise on draft day. Scouts who have seen a lot of him understand he's got a more well-rounded game than he gets credit for. If I was picking in the 8-15 range, I'd really argue for this guy. (I'd slot him ahead of Connolly if my team medical specialists expressed any concern about Connolly's hips.) Somewhere in the 15-25 range seems most likely, and I can't imagine him dropping much further than that."- Red Line Report's Mike Remmerde in his NHL Draft Notes blog; June, 2010

"Shea Weber, probably is like the most typical stay at home D man. He has a great shot, too, and physical at times. One of my big role models is Travis Hamonic (53rd overall in 2008). He's come up the ranks right now and he's helped me along the way. He's someone I sure look up to."- Dylan McIlrath to NHL.com

"He played on Moose Jaw for three years and then he just got traded at the deadline to Brandon. He's helped me along the way. Right when I got drafted, he kind of fired me up on Facebook and said we should get together one time. We ended up working out at the same gym that year, and so we became good friends like that, and then been friends since."- Dylan McIlrath on friend and mentor Travis Hamonic to NHL.com

“I’ve always had a big wingspan; I can credit that to my mom’s side of the family. It’s always been a joke in our family about my long monkey arms. They come in handy in hockey, though, both in fighting and in the employment of a good poke check.”- Dylan McIlrath to New England Hockey Journal; June, 2010

“I saw him throw three or four thundering hits (in the open ice), but he fought only once. It was almost as if he would make the hit and look around for the inevitable challenge, but nobody wanted to fight him. It was pretty obvious that he had established a reputation and there weren’t too many guys who wanted to tangle with him at that point.”- NHL scout to New England Hockey Journal; June, 2010

The scoop:

Dylan McIlrath scouting report

Bruins Are On Defenseman McIlrath's Radar

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