Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rangers Player Review: Ryan McDonagh

The New York Rangers movement to incorporate more youth in their lineup has been a combination of better drafting and key trades for prospects that have developed into NHL caliber players.  One of those trades was made on June 30, 2009 when as part of the deal that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal, Glen Sather was able to bring Ryan McDonagh to the organization.  After going back and forth on the issue, McDonagh eventually decided last summer to leave Wisconsin after his Junior season and turn professional.

McDonagh came to camp and appeared to be NHL ready, but the team sent him down to begin the year in Hartford.  There were multiple reasons for the decision by the organization to send down the now 22-year-old defender.  In Hartford he was going to get more playing time than he would have to start the season in New York.  Also, with the possibility of losing Michael Sauer to waivers and wanting to keep Steve Eminger on the team, McDonagh not be subject to waivers made the move to send him down the easy one.
After struggling early with the transition to the AHL, McDonagh found his game and was eventually called up the Rangers on January 3, 2011.  Initially the promotion was just a corresponding roster move with the team sending Michael Del Zotto down to work on his game.  However, shortly after he was brought up Michal Rozsival would be taken out of the lineup due to injury.  

McDonagh would struggle some in his debut against Dallas, but the very next night against St. Louis he showed that he was ready for this level.  The improvement from his debut and capability that McDonagh showed in that second game was enough for management to feel comfortable trading away Michal Rozsival just a few days later.  The move was a big vote of confidence for McDonagh and the rest of the young defense.  He would repay that confidence in full over the course of his 40 game rookie season.

Pairing with Michael Sauer for the second half of the season, the rookies gave the Rangers a second set of shutdown defenders.  With each passing game the confidence level grew in the young defenseman and so did the accolades from all around the league at the steady defense he was putting on display.  The easiest aspect of his game to praise is his tremendous skating ability, but it was his poise and intelligence that stood out just as much.  It was rare to catch McDonagh out of position and his willingness to make the simple play was something that all young players could use more of.  Physicality is also part of his game whether just in the normal course of checking the opponent or in clearing the opposition out from the crease in front of Henrik Lundqvist.   That attention to detail on the defensive side of the ice is why McDonagh was able to accumulate a plus-16 rating in his 40 games.

Offensively, McDonagh is still a work in progress as he scored only one goal while adding eight assists for the Rangers.  For those who focus on the point totals, McDonagh is not going to be a flashy player or even a big point producer, but he will use his intelligence, physicality and skating ability to shut down the opposition.  As the season progressed and his comfort and confidence grew you saw a little more offensive play from McDonagh and the hope is that will continue to develop as he grows in the NHL.

If the salary cap relief in dealing Scott Gomez alone was not enough of a win for the New York Rangers and their fans, the 2010-11 season showed how big a coup the deal was as Ryan McDonagh was introduced to the NHL and showed that he is likely to be a stalwart for the next decade on the New York blue line.

Grade: A-