Grading The Rangers: Ryan McDonagh


Following along with defensemen still, today we analyze rookie D Ryan McDonagh.

You could argue during training camp prior to this season that the defense position for the Rangers was the one spot that could see anyone compete and win a job. Of course, you had your main stays in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy had jobs to lose but were no locks, leaving the final 2 spots as open season. The Rangers brought in some veterans in Alexei Semenov & Garnet Exelby and traded for Steve Eminger. Amongst the rookie who competed to win a spot were Michael Sauer, Pavel Valentenko, and Ryan McDonagh. Despite having a solid training camp, Rangers management felt McDonagh was “right there” but better served to start in the AHL to gain confidence and continue to fine-tune his game. McDonagh’s chance would come January 3rd, when the Rangers recalled him. At the time, it was a depth move corresponding to Del Zotto demotion. However, what it turned out to be was a turning point in the season and the beginning of an impressive rookie campaign by a future star on defense in Ryan McDonagh.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2010-2011 season that was for Ryan McDonagh:

What We Expected:

Expectations for Ryan McDonagh were shrouded in mystery due to the fact he didn’t make the team out of training camp. The Rangers knew they had a potentially great defenseman because of McDonagh’s skating ability but they felt he needed to hone in on his poise and defensive skills and playing down in the AHL would give him the opportunity to log quality minutes and play every game. His eventual counterpart Michael Sauer did make the team over McDonagh, showing poise, smarts, and the grit coach Tortorella wants from his young defenseman. It’s not to say McDonagh didn’t show enough to make the Rangers – it’s more a matter of when the right time would be for him to make his debut with the team.

How He Did:

There was no looking back for Ryan McDonagh after making his debut January 7th against Dallas. McDonagh showed enough improvement in that game that Rangers management felt comfortable enough to make a trade 3 days later that saw Michal Rosival leave for Phoenix and brought back to the Rangers Wojtek Wolski. At the time, it left the Rangers with 27-year-old Steve Eminger as their elder statesman on defense. But, as the games progressed, Ryan McDonagh showed immense improvement from training camp and gelled quickly into the Rangers system. McDonagh eventually paired with Michael Sauer to become a young, formidable, shut-down pair behind Staal & Girardi, giving Torts another set of options to help shut down the oppositions best players. In 40 games with New York, McDonagh had 9 points (1g, 8a) and 14 PIM. His most impressive stat was his plus/minus of +16, displaying a keen defensive awareness night in and night out.

His defining moment in his rookie season might’ve come in the biggest spot possible for the Rangers. Game 82, needing not only a win to get in but help as well and with the game tied at 2, Ryan McDonagh scores his first career NHL goal that ends up being the game-winning goal as the Rangers would win the game 5-2 and advance to the playoffs. That’s about as clutch as you can get.

In the 5 game playoff series against Washington however, McDonagh’s play did slip, responsible for the turnover in Game 4 in the 3rd period that lead to the Alex Semin goal that put the Capitals on the board 3-1 at the time and would eventually take the game in double OT. Although, for any young player in the NHL, getting valuable playoff experience is great catalyst for their development

Final Grade: B+

McDonagh is another player whose season can’t be measured in his numbers – it’s what he does that doesn’t show up on a box score that made his first season with the Rangers a great success. He routinely took the body, made some great defensive plays, and showcased poise & maturity that even some NHL veterans don’t have. The one skill that received constantly praise in every Rangers broadcast (and rightfully so) was McDonagh’s speed and skating ability. You can make the argument McDonagh’s legs got him into the NHL and were the reason he was able to have a great season. If you can recover from a defensive lapse by out-skating your opposition to regain possession to the puck, you mask your mistakes with hustle and determination – 2 traits that define the Rangers mantra.

The quickness that McDonagh progressed with Michael Sauer as a pair surprised everyone including management and will surely change their game plans in to how they approach the offseason. The Rangers have a top 4 defense corps that is not only young but will continue to improve.

Going Forward:

After the playoffs ended with a 3-1 defeat by the Capitals in Game 5, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan joined Team USA for the IIHF Worlds Championship. Currently, Team USA is still alive, competing for a gold medal. The positives are along with Stepan and McDonagh, Rangers prospect Chris Krieder is there as well and all 3 players are having a great tournament. The wealth of experience all 3 players will take away from the Worlds will only help in their respective developments.

Ryan McDonagh is signed through the 2012-2013 season so you needn’t worry about him going anywhere. Barring anything catastrophic, McD will return to play along side Michael Sauer and continue to develop themselves as great 2nd pair.

Look for the Rangers to try and tap into McDonagh’s offensive potential in training camp. You didn’t see it on display too often this past season, but McDonagh has a shot and can use his legs to beat the opposition on the rush if he chooses to. With Torts preaching his team to attack on offense and urging his D to join the rush, McDonagh would be well served to add those abilities to his repertoire to round out his already impressive game.