Ryan McDonagh is the dream. A top prospect who turned out to be anything and everything he was projected to be. A guy the New York Rangers got in perhaps the greatest trade of Glen Sather’s career. (That link is a beautiful time machine from Jim’s breaking news story in 2009. The best part? McDonagh is never mentioned in it once. Sometimes it’s easy to forget Chris Higgins was the original centerpiece of that deal. Also, in the comments people linked to a Rick Carp story about how the Rangers were getting Dany Heatley that night. That never happened, but my God the Rangers blogosphere was hopping in 2009.)
McDonagh has carried a burden these past few years. Forced to partner with Dan Girardi on the top pair, going against top competition, McDonagh somehow always managed to hold his head above the water.
When you think of players being asked to play a key role, McDonagh’s picture should be top of mind. He led the team with 3:05 a night on the man advantage, led the team with 2:21 a night on the penalty kill, and led the team with 24:21 a night at all strengths. Somehow magically even with all those burdens he finished with 42 points in 77 games -- with 15 of those points coming on the power play. In the playoffs he added seven points in 12 games.
I’ve often been amazed at how much power play time Vigneault thrown onto McDonagh with other options in the fold. Not that McDonagh can’t handle the role, but along with his penalty killing and even strength time he was being worn down. Shattenkirk represents a true power play quarterback. Skjei has shown an ability to fill that void as well, and DeAngelo is touted to eventually take the reigns over. That’s three players who can run the ship while McDonagh gets much needed rests — or is used far less than he has been in the past. The ripple effect of Shattenkirk is felt all across the lineup — especially in a Vigneault system that thrives on the defense moving the puck out of the zone.
To assume McDonagh was anything short of brilliant this year would be unfair. That he did as much as he did with a possession black hole tethered to his ankle is a testament to his ability. In reality, when McDonagh is paired with Shattenkirk next season it’s likely he’s arrested because he’ll be stealing all the possession. It is a wonder to think about what he’ll be with true talent next to him.
McDonagh was described as Mr. Everything in Wisconsin. When the team needed offense he was there. When they needed a shutdown guy he was there. When they needed someone to trust with a lead he was there. Vigneault, thankfully, leans on McDonagh in much the same way. The player he selects to put with him there is a different story, but McDonagh does what is expected of him time and time again.
I think it’s important to note that McDonagh came a point away from tying his career high offensively, won the triple crown of ice time on the team, was solid in the playoffs, and managed to turn a top-three worst defensive corps into a well below average one.
Much like Henrik Lundqvist a few years back (not this year sadly) there isn’t another grade you can give him. McDonagh gets an A because he has to get an A. There isn’t a flaw to his game big enough to detract from that grade. That he was able to do it with the deck stacked against him as much as it was even furthers the point.
Also akin to Lundqvist: The Rangers would very simply be lost without McDonagh. Maybe not as much anymore with the significant improvements the Rangers have made to their defense, but he’s the best non-goalie on the team and it’s not even close. No one does nearly as much.
And until this year changes that, no one does nearly as much while getting so little help in return.