It was always an inevitability that no. 27 Ryan McDonagh would become the 27th captain in Rangers history. On Oct. 6, 2014, the Rangers made it official.
“Ryan McDonagh exemplifies what we want a New York Ranger to be,” general manager Glen Sather said in a statement. “He has earned the respect of his teammates through his commitment to excellence, both on and off the ice, and the passion with which he plays on a consistent basis. He is the ideal choice to lead our team as its captain.”
One day later, McDonagh detailed his leadership style. He isn’t the type to rant, rave and shout in the faces of teammates. McDonagh is as even-keeled as there comes. He believes that the best way to lead is through a sheer professional example. That being said, McDonagh understands when and how to hold teammates accountable.
“They’ve given me this responsibility because I’ve prepared myself the way I have,” McDonagh said. “You don’t have to say anything to a young guy. He can just notice you and the way you prepare and carry yourself on and off the ice, as someone that can be looked at from a distance. Obviously, talking and speaking with guys and speaking with the team is very important for sure, holding guys accountable. But it’s the stuff you do when people aren’t looking that makes the difference, too.”
Fast-forward to late March. The pressure of wearing the captain’s ‘C’ hasn’t weighed down McDonagh. His all-around efforts are central to the 44-18-7 Rangers vying for top seed in the Eastern Conference. Having played three games less than the Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers currently sit two points behind the Habs.
McDonagh continues to be an all-situation player whom head coach Alain Vigneault trusts to log heavy minutes. The 25-year-old has averaged 23:13 TOI per game and is trusted as a go-to guy in even-strength, power play and shorthanded situations.
Lately, the Rangers have clamped down defensively – allowing one goal or fewer in regulation in each of the past eight games. The stout-defending Blueshirts have surrendered one goal or fewer in nine of 13 games. They’ve won five of six games, while their penalty kill is clicking at 18-for-19 (94.7%) over that stretch. Over their last nine games, the Rangers are 25-for-27 (92.6 %) on the penalty kill.
McDonagh only trails alternate captain Dan Girardi in shorthanded minutes per game, logging 2:39 SH TOI/GP. He leads all Rangers with 105 blocked shots over the 48 games since he returned to the lineup on Nov. 28 after recovering from a shoulder injury.
YANDLE ON MAC: ‘HE CONTROLS THE ROOM’
Rangers blue liners Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle spoke exclusively to XN Sports about McDonagh’s leadership style. Even though Yandle has only been with the Rangers since Mar. 1, he has immediately noticed teammates following McDonagh’s even-keeled approach.
“He controls the room,” Yandle said. “Mac has a confidence about him in the way he goes about himself. He’s really professional for a fairly young guy. It’s pretty impressive to see. Whether we’re up or down in game situations, you can tell that he’s even-keeled. It trickles down throughout the whole team.”
Having previously spent his entire career alongside the league’s longest-serving captain in Arizona Coyotes winger Shane Doan, Yandle sees McDonagh as another great captain in the making.
“I don’t think you can tell it’s his first year as a captain, he seems like a guy who’s had the ‘C’ on his jersey for a long time,” Yandle said. “It’s nice to see. Being with Doaner in Arizona for a long time, I learned a lot from from him. With Mac, you can tell he’s on his way to becoming one of the great captains in this game.”
Having seen individually-minded players come and go in Arizona, it’s refreshing for Yandle to step into a dressing room where youthful players like McDonagh and 24-year-old alternate captain Derek Stepan are embracing leadership roles.
“The way the NHL is now, selfish guys kind of get weeded out,” Yandle said. “It’s great to come in here and see two guys like Mac and Step, two young guys who care so much about the team. It doesn’t matter what happens. They’ll do anything for the team. It’s really nice to be part of a group like this.”
BOYLE ON MAC: ‘HE’S DONE A TREMENDOUS JOB THIS YEAR’
Having spent his early years studying the example of former Florida Panthers captain Scott Mellanby and winning the 2004 Stanley Cup alongside inspirational Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, Boyle understands the importance of the captain setting a tone through positive work habits.
“Work ethic is the single most important thing to show your leadership,” Boyle said. “Scott Mellanby was my captain in Florida. He was one of the hardest-working guys. Dave Andreychuk was the oldest guy when I was in Tampa. He worked hard every day, had a great attitude and was also one of the guys.”
The 38-year-old Boyle has seen it all with his wise, veteran eyes. He views McDonagh as a captain that relates to teammates and shows them the way through his dedicated example.
“He’s one of the guys,” Boyle said. “You never want your captain to be someone who isn’t part of the group. People talk about locker room stuff. To me, a captain leads on the ice. I think he’s done a tremendous job this year. He’s a leader, you can how hard he works. Mac does a great job leading by example.”
Boyle believes in the importance of team leaders steering clear of complacency. He feels that if a leader takes a shift or a night off, it can cause teammates to scale back their competitiveness. Fortunately for the Rangers, McDonagh always has his “compete level” turned up the highest.
“If you take a night off or take a shift off, it allows other guys to do that,” Boyle said. “If your captain’s doing that, there’s a problem. Mac never takes a night off or a shift off.”
A great captain is required to deliver Lord Stanley. Boyle had the privilege of playing alongside a great one that brought Tampa their first-ever taste of Lord Stanley in Andreychuk. Now, Boyle and Ranger teammates are watching another great captain blossom in front of their eyes in McDonagh.