Each day in the lead-up to the NHL Draft on June 25-26 in Los Angeles, Yahoo! Sports will feature one of the Central Scouting Bureau’s Top 100 North American prospects from the Canadian Hockey League.
Dylan McIlrath delivers a swift jab to the sportswriting trope there are no more good nicknames.
The Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman ability to take the body, and to wreack havoc, has sparked terms of endearment such as "The Freight Train from Winnipeg," "The Undertaker" and "Big Mac Truck." The scraps of 'Rath, so to speak, are a big favourite on YouTube.
McIlrath, though, who is the 17th-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, is steadily showing he has much to offer at the next level. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound defender progressed quickly in the second half of his season with the Warriors. He earned a spot in the CHL Top Prospects game and, following a trade deadline deal that sent New York Islanders prospect Travis Hamonic east to the eventual MasterCard Memorial Cup runner-up Brandon Wheat Kings, had an expanded role. He finished the season with seven goals and 24 points in 65 games, along with a plus-20 rating after recording a minus-22 in his rookie season.
Improving his ability to contribute on offence --McIlrath notes "my quickness and my hands" when asked which area of his game needs the most work -- would probably help McIlrath improve his stock between the draft and when he is ready to turn pro. He will likely be taken somewhere after the 20th overall pick.
1. How would you say your past season progressed, from start to finish? "Coming into the year, I didn't really know where to slot myself in the defensive corps. It was a pretty good returning group. But I worked my way up into the top two by the end. With Travis [Hamonic] leaving, he ate up a lot of minutes, I kind of assumed some of his role, with more penalty-kill time, stuff like that.
"The way we had to end our season was tough, being up 3-1 [in the opening round] against the No. 1 team [Calgary Hitmen] in the Western Hockey League. But it's part of a learning experience, you take it with a grain and salt. It will make our team better and stronger and I am sure it won't happen again."
2. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"Toughness, I think. I bring that element. I'm hard to play against -- just try to be that shutdown defender."
3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"Probably making the CHL Top Prospects Games [in January]. I had never done anything like that. It was pretty cool. As far as the game went, couldn't ask for anything better. I settled in pretty well that night. I ended up getting in a fight [with Red Deer Rebels defenceman Alexander Petrovic] ... it wasn't prearranged or anything, but it was a nice way to finish off the night."
4. Whom in the NHL do you look at and say, 'That's someone I need to be playing like?'
"A guy that I like to model myself around is a Shea Weber type. In junior [with Kelowna of the WHL] he was more of a shutdown defender and developed his offensive abilities later on. That is what I am striving for."
5. Favourite pregame meal or ritual?
"I'm fortunate that I have really great billets in Moose Jaw, Glenda and Jay Julien. She's a great cook and she always spices up the pregame pasta, keeps it interesting."
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Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.