Ryan McDonagh has been a special defenseman ever since donning a New York Rangers sweater.
The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs have further illustrated that he is one of the NHL's top defenders. McDonagh was a highly-touted defensive prospect, as he was drafted 12th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. He was foolishly gift-wrapped to the Rangers in a trade in which the Canadiens received Scott Gomez.
Ever since McDonagh became a Ranger, he has done nothing but impress. He had a solid background in college playing under Mike Eaves at the University of Wisconsin. Some of players that benefited from the tutelage of Eaves include Derek Stepan, Jack Skille, Rene Bourque, Ryan Suter and Joe Pavelski—just to name a few.
These players are all known for their work ethic and their innate talent that was displayed on the college, AHL and NHL level.
McDonagh impressed at the AHL level and was brought up for the long haul last season, and he has only developed into a solid all-around defenseman. McDonagh had a solid regular season, but Wednesday's triple overtime thriller against the Washington Capitals was a signature game for McDonagh and a game that solidifies his role as one of the league's top young defenseman.
McDonagh was an ironman warrior during the triple overtime thriller and he was on the ice for 53:17. McDonagh usually averages 28:00 minutes a night, but the increased minutes had little impact on the Rangers' best defenseman.
McDonagh was asked by reporters how he was able to carry on during the marathon and he gave a simple and direct answer.
Via the New York Times:
Knowing that the guy next to me is doing it the same way. Whoever was out there was battling. It’s not really exhaustion when you win a game. You feel like all that effort paid off — that’s the only way to put it.”
It is still hard to believe that this is only McDonagh's second season in the NHL, but it is certain that he has emerged as one of the league's top defenders. He was turning heads when he was called up but after this season, the entire league is on notice.
A huge indication that McDonagh is one of the league's top defenseman is backed up by the amount of minutes he plays night in and night out.
McDonagh is currently the active leader in minutes played per game in the 2012 playoffs with an average night of 28:49.
McDonagh blocked shot after shot and threw body checks left and right; he kept superstar Alex Ovechkin in check all night long during Game 3. It is very impressive that McDonagh has kept up his solid play after a very solid breakout regular season.
McDonagh is a shutdown defender who made himself more versatile this season by becoming more involved in the offensive side of the puck. During the regular season, McDonagh appeared in 82 games and scored seven goals and assisted on 25 others for a total of 32 points.
What is even more impressive is that unlike other top point producing defenseman, McDonagh doesn't play the power play.
With his offensive side becoming a bigger part of his game, there is a good chance that McDonagh will become a part of the Rangers' man advantage unit next season.
Despite McDonagh's offensive numbers, he is known for his clean physical shutdown style of play. Alongside his partner Dan Girardi, McDonagh was part of one of the league's top shot-blocking defensive pairs. Girardi finished fifth with 185 blocked shots and McDonagh blocked 182 of his own.
McDonagh also was defensively sound in all zones during the regular season, and as a result, McDonagh finished with a plus-minus rating of plus-25.
When you look up and down the Rangers' roster, it is clear that McDonagh is their best defenseman.
He is only 22 years old and he will continue to hone his craft as he gains more experience. McDonagh's progression has All-Star and Olympian written all over it, and he has been a big reason why the Rangers are one of the league's top defensive teams.
With the influx of youth in the Rangers organization, players like McDonagh give fans a reason to trust Glen Sather, Gordie Clark, Jeff Gorton and the rest of the Rangers' developmental system.
McDonagh will likely be an All-Star in 2013 and an Olympian in 2014, but his play could help him and the Rangers become Stanley Cup Champions in 2012.