Ryan McDonagh’s Emergence Is Exciting To Watch

Ryan McDonagh has had plenty to celebrate the past two games. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Over the past two games, fans of the New York Rangers have graciously been given a glimpse into the development of an NHL defenseman. With Ryan McDonagh having a hand in two straight victories – the first two of the season for the team – more eyes are situated on the young defenseman more than ever before.

The rapid improvement of McDonagh could not have come at better time for the Rangers. Still without defensive stalwart Marc Staal and fellow underrated defenseman Michael Sauer, the perception is that the Rangers are lacking depth on the back line. However, McDonagh – along with fellow youngsters Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon – have been steady in their absence and have held their own in the early going.

It’s McDonagh’s play that’s been impressive to watch and has helped anchor the Rangers defense so far this season.

It all began in preseason when it was determined Marc Staal wasn’t ready for contact due to lingering post-concussion symptoms and a partner was needed to play along side defensive rock Dan Girardi. McDonagh was the easy choice for coach John Tortorella to make. Despite still being 22-years-old and with just one year of NHL service under his belt, McDonagh has continually impressed since debuting for the team last January.

The injuries on defense forced Torts to ride his horses more than he would like so far, but his top pair of Girardi and McDonagh have responded to the increased ice-time. Through five games, McDonagh’s stats hold some impressive nuggets. His 25:23 ATOI is good for 13th in the NHL (his partner Girardi leads all of the NHL with 28:59). If you’re a fan of advanced stats, McDonagh’s QUALCOMP of 0.594 is third best in the NHL and indicates, along with his +3, that McDonagh is playing against, and routinely shutting down, the oppositions best players.

The defensive numbers are great but it’s the offensive improvement over the past two games that deserve the noteworthy accolades. McDonagh’s give-and-go goal with Brandon Dubinsky coupled with his patience and vision to set up Marian Gaborik in the Rangers four-goal third period outburst against the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night is exactly what the Rangers need, their defenseman joining the play and being a threat.

The offense for McDonagh carried over into last night’s contest against the Calgary Flames. Despite playing an inconsistent game defensively, McDonagh showed even more offensive promise, springing Gaborik with a deft saucer pass at center ice while being checked for a short-handed breakaway. However, it was the waning seconds of overtime that displayed something not seen by any Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch.

Rick Carpinello of the Rangers’ Report said it best in his recap of the game today:

I’m going to invoke the name Brian Leetch again. Because Leetch always had a clock in his head, and he knew at the end of periods, end of games, when there wasn’t enough time left for him to have to worry about defensive responsibilities, and he’d just go. Just go to the net, go to the offensive traffic. It’s a simple thing, but not many defensemen do it. There’s no risk when it’s down to the final seconds. And Ryan McDonagh, who just gets better every day, had the clock in his head winding down and went to the net, no risk at all, and won the game. The kid’s got great wheels, got a good head, is big and strong.

Am I saying Ryan McDonagh is the next coming of Brian Leetch? Not by any stretch of the imaginations. But if McDonagh can continue to develop into a solid, two-way defenseman and routinely display the offensive acumen we’ve been exposed to the past two games, he could become one of the better overall defenseman in the whole of the NHL.

*****

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Topics: Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Leetch, Calgary Flames, Dan Girardi, Injuries On Defense, John Tortorella, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers, Ryan McDonagh, Tim Erixon, Vancouver Canucks

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