25-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh is “Mr. Everything” for the New York Rangers. Take him out of the equation and the Rangers have a big problem.
The Rangers lost their captain for a stretch of 11 games after McDonagh suffered a separated left shoulder against the Winnipeg Jets on November 1. Over that stretch, the Rangers played .500 hockey – going 4-4-3.
“You can’t really fill those shoes and expect guys to come in and do what he does,” Nash said. “He’s an elite defenseman in this league. There’s a big gap when we don’t have him in the lineup.”
“There was definitely a big hole in our lineup when he was out,” Stempniak said. “When he’s out of the lineup – you can tell.”
While some defenseman boast stronger offensive or defensive acumen, McDonagh excels in all areas of the ice. Try to find a weakness in his game – there isn’t one.
“Some d-men in the league are good offensively, but they struggle in the defensive zone,” Brassard said. “Mac is all-around good. He’s good in every aspect of the game. He can shut down the best players. He can be on the power play and your top penalty killing unit. He’s hard to play against.”
Brassard believes that McDonagh is the perfect role model for young defenseman to emulate.
“If you try to teach a 17 or 18-year-old defenseman who to become in five or six years, you’d try to show some clips of Mac,” Brassard said. “Everyone should be looking at his game. He’s the perfect defenseman.”
Since returning to the lineup on November 28, McDonagh has recorded assists in back-to-back victories over the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
McDonagh’s offensive game grew in leaps and bounds last season following the installation of Alain Vigneault as head coach. Vigneault offered McDonagh greater opportunities to rush the puck up ice and counted on McDonagh as a key man on the power play.
“His skating is so good,” Brassard said. “He can join the rush, he can be up in the rush with the forwards. He’s a really smart guy on the power play.”
During the 2013-14 regular season, McDonagh scored 14 goals and recorded 29 assists for a career-best 43 points. Vigneault leaned harder on McDonagh once the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs got underway. His minutes per game jumped from 24:49 to 26:48. So did McDonagh’s points per game – from 0.56 to 0.68. The 6-foot-1 defenseman played a crucial role in advancing the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994.
On October 6, the Rangers named McDonagh the 27th captain in franchise history. Brassard believes that the decision was a “no-brainer” for the Blueshirts as McDonagh could be described as the ultimate professional.
“He’s really professional in everything he does on and off the ice,” Brassard said. “That’s why he’s our captain. It was a no-brainer for him to be named captain of our team.”
Since signing with the Rangers in July, Stempniak has taken notice of McDonagh’s dedicated example and approachable nature.
“I think he’s more of a lead-by-example kind of guy,” Stempniak said. “He’s always out after practice trying to improve his game. He’s a guy you can look to. He works hard, he takes care of himself, he plays the right way and he plays consistently well. Mac has a pulse on the room. He’s an easygoing guy that you can talk to. He gets along with everyone. He’s approachable and takes an interest in every player. For me, that’s the best kind of leader.”
Now that McDonagh is back and firing, the 11-8-4 Rangers appear to be trending upward.