A quick glance at a history of the New York Rangers captains will reveal a trend. The player bestowed the 'C,' for the most part, doesn't relinquish that duty quickly. Ryan Callahan held the honor for two-plus seasons, before getting traded to the Lightning at last year's deadline, leaving the position vacant. Before him was Chris Drury, who likewise held the role for three seasons. In all, the franchise has had 26 captains in its 88 years.
There's already a small 'c' on the back of his jersey, and come the 2014-15 season, there should be a much larger, more prominent letter displayed on the front of Ryan McDonagh's uniform.
During Callahan's tenure as skipper, he consistently embodied the qualities of a team captain, and was often referred to as one of the better leaders in the league. He inspired by example with his play on the ice, had no qualms with addressing the media during the team's worst moments, and was respected by his teammates.
In some ways, McDonagh could even surpass Callahan in some of those areas.
The 25-year-old defenseman isn't as blue collar as his former teammate. His game is simply better all-around: McDonagh is inarguably a top 15 player at his position, and only getting better. His game is rounding out under Alain Vigneault, while appearances with USA Hockey, and finishing on this year's Norris ballot have made the Saint Paul native more visible.
His teammates will never have to question his compete or skill level, nor will they ever have to worry about an ineffective McDonagh. When he was at his worst this season, McDonagh was rushing back from a shoulder surgery to contribute to a Rangers playoff run. It took him about 10 or so games, but his play returned to its normal level, and then McDonagh logged six points in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final on the road, putting the Rangers in the driver's seat.
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The last three seasons, he's averaged nearly 25 minutes of ice time a night. He's near the top in minutes played among blue liners over that span. And just about every second he is on the ice is spent against the opposition's best, which in the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions has meant Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, and Ilya Kovalchuk, just to name a few.
On top of that, McDonagh provides a host of intangibles that put him over the top in the captain-consideration category. Each singular item doesn't add much, but it's every little thing he does that molds his pedigree. He's a consistent face at the team's off-ice events, visiting schools, hospitals, or interacting with fans. That can also be said about his participation with USA Hockey. Or McDonagh's personal rule that he won't move from his spot on the ice after the national anthem until the colors and servicemen make their way off. Don't mistake this for irrationally tacking on more and more meaningless notches onto McDonagh's stick. Every aspect of his on-and-off-ice game is calculated, and needs to be viewed as one product.
"I feel like I'm taking a lot more of a role in that [leadership] department, speaking up a little bit more in team meetings, in between periods, stuff like that," McDonagh told ESPN in that same report. "More importantly, for me, I think, is just to continue to stand up in my role on the ice."
McDonagh wouldn't be the youngest captain in team history (that honor belongs to Dave Maloney), but as a player entering the prime of his career, and under contract through 2019, it's abundantly logical McDonagh should inherit the reigns for the team. The only returning players to have worn a letter last season are Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Staal has a strong resume, but considering what just transpired this past season—the Rangers forced to part ways with a captain at the trade deadline over a contract dispute—Staal's uncertain future casts a bit of a cloud over his candidacy.
Either way, McDonagh is still the better choice, and poised to continue to grow as a player and leader wearing a Rangers sweater.