While the NHL remains in a lockout, New York Rangers fans are remaining optimistic about the 2012-13 season taking place – even if it’s shortened. After all, the Rangers were so close last season and should be even better this year after the acquisition of Rick Nash.

While the Rangers have plenty of front-line talent, they will need the help of their young prospects to give them a boost. One player who could offer quite a bit is physical defenseman Dylan McIlrath.

McIlrath was selected 10th overall by the Rangers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and he appears to be on the fast track to being one of their important pieces. He played a full year of junior hockey last season and collected 23 points, but much of his value isn’t going to be viewed in goals or assists. The Undertaker, as he’s known, is a 6’5, 215-pound blue liner who will be able to keep the front of the net clean and allow goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to see everything he needs to see.

However, McIlrath did suffer a knee injury in Rangers summer camp. It wasn’t pretty as McIlrath dislocated his kneecap but he underwent surgery in July and has been healing faster than expected. If anything, the lockout might benefit him a little as it gives him some more time to recover.

The Rangers have a steady blue line with Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonough, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Mike Sauer. It’s unclear where McIlrath would fit in and he’d have to beat out one of the veterans to steal a spot. But experts who make NHL picks can tell you that injuries happen and any team making a run to the Stanley Cup will need depth.

For now, McIlrath will stick with the Connecticut Whale of the AHL but he’s a body-rocker and the Rangers would love to have him on their roster assuming the NHL lockout ends shortly.