Born in Hawkesbury, Ontario, Dan McGillis played Tier II Junior A in his hometown and was selected 238th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. He then spent four years at Northeastern University where he was a two-time selection to the Hockey East First All-Star Team. In March 1996, the young rearguard was sent to the Edmonton Oilers for grinding winger Kirk Maltby.
McGillis enjoyed a strong rookie season in 1996-97 and helped Edmonton reach the second round of the playoffs. After spending the better part of the 1997-98 season in Edmonton, McGillis was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers for slick defenceman Janne Niinimaa. Upon joining the Flyers, McGillis helped the club's break-out with his incisive passes and logged many minutes on the power play. In 2000-01, he set personal highs with 14 goals and 49 points while using his 230 lb. frame more effectively on defence.
A member of Canada's World Championship Team in 2002, McGillis went on to play parts of six seasons with the Flyers, before being dealt to the San Jose Sharks. McGillis played only 37 games with the Sharks before being traded late in the 2002-03 season to the Boston Bruins where he remains a key figure on the team's blue line.
In 2003-04, McGillis continued his strong play on the Bruins blue line and surpassed the 600-game plateau before being acquired by the New Jersey Devils in the summer of 2005.