The Grand Rapids Griffins acquired defenseman Dylan McIlrath in the deal that sent Thomas Vanek to the Florida Panthers on March 1. McIlrath, aka “The Undertaker”, is an imposing (6’5”, 235 pounds) former first round blue-liner drafted by the New York Rangers in 2010. He as only appeared in 44 total NHL games played with the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, tallying more penalty minutes than points.
While many Red Wings’ fans were saddened by the loss of Thomas Vanek to the Panthers, at least one person was excited about bringing McIlrath into Detroit’s organization, Griffins coach, Todd Nelson.
In an interview with MLive.com in May, Nelson expressed how important the addition of McIlrath was to the Griffins:
"We felt like he was the piece we needed. Since we got him our guys play a lot taller, just having his presence. He's a good guy in the locker room and knows his role and is playing real good hockey for us. But when the game does get ugly, he's there."
McIlrath appeared in 21 regular season games for Grand Rapids where he put up four assists and spent 42 minutes in the penalty box. In 19 playoff appearances he notched five assists and 25 PIM.
Commenting on his own rough and tough style of play, McIlrath says:
"It's just my game - I try to create space for other players and knowing that I have their backs. Sometimes that helps them relax and go play. I, obviously, didn't fight every game (since joining the Griffins), I only had one of two majors, but knowing I'm going to have my presence felt helps me get in the game and that's been my style all along."
So now Dylan McIlrath is an AHL Champion, as well as an unrestricted free agent. His expiring contract carries an AAV of $800,000 which is ironically the same amount Ken Holland and the Red Wings paid Steve Ott for his “grit”.
With players such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Thomas Nosek all looking to make a push for a spot on the Red Wings’ roster next season, it might not be a bad idea to keep a guy like Dylan McIlrath around to have their backs. We all know how veteran NHL players like to take runs at the new guys/kids, perhaps they would think twice with McIlrath out on the ice.
If nothing else, Grand Rapids might be thrilled to have him back.