Ryan McDonagh has been a stalwart shutdown defender for the New York Rangers since entering the league, but this year under Alain Vigneault he is showcasing his offensive potential. In the past, the former Wisconsin Badger blueliner has displayed glimpses of offensive brilliance, but no one expected this type of offensive production out of McDonagh.
According to TheHockeyNews.com, McDonagh isn’t a ”high-octane offensive defenseman, so he shouldn't be counted on as a first offensive option from the back end at the National Hockey League level.”
This year McDonagh has disproved that statement, as he has already tallied 11 points in 18 games. He is on pace for 50 points in 82 games, and that would be a career high for the St. Paul, Minn., native.
To put McDonagh’s offensive surge in perspective, in 47 games last year, the 6’1”, 213-pound rearguard registered four goals and 15 assists for 19 points. This year McDonagh has already notched four goals, and he is on pace for a career high of 18 goals.
Earlier in the year, McDonagh said that he was looking forward to playing in Alain Vigneault’s uptempo offensive system, and he has certainly made the most of it thus far.
Via Steve Zipay of Newsday:
McDonagh, one of the league's top shutdown defensemen, is jazzed about new coach Alain Vigneault's uptempo style. Even the guys who aren't playing [in a preseason game] are watching together," McDonagh said last week. We talk about new things we're working on. We want to be pretty aggressive [in our zone], trying to outnumber guys. Rather than trying to wait, we're trying to jump them. You're going into corners, lay the body, then go up the ice [to join the rush].
McDonagh has lived up to what he said earlier in the year, and for that reason he has been an offensive factor for the Broadway Blueshirts. One of the reasons that McDonagh is thriving offensively is that his role has been changed.
In the past, McDonagh was utilized as a defensive defender, and for that reason he played primarily at even strength and on the penalty kill. This year, McDonagh is averaging 17:31 a game on even strength, and he is playing 2:01 on the man advantage.
Last season under John Tortorella, McDonagh averaged 21:01 at even strength and a minuscule 0:38 on the power play per game.
After looking at the numbers, it is safe to say that the added power-play time has put McDonagh in situations to contribute offensively, and as a result his offensive numbers have increased. To date, McDonagh has contributed one power-play goal and two assists.
He is also leading the Rangers’ defense corps in scoring by a large margin, as runner-up Michael Del Zotto only has four points.
In the video below, McDonagh executes a filthy toe drag against the Washington Capitals, and that move alone showed fans that there was another element to his game. This year he is finally utilizing it, because Vigneault's system encourages it.
This year McDonagh is still playing his normal game, but he is taking more chances offensively. He is also shooting the puck more, and he is sixth on the team in overall shots with 29. McDonagh's defensive game hasn't been compromised at the sake of showcasing his offense, and that is a great sign for the 24-year-old.
Will Ryan McDonagh contend for the Norris Trophy this season?
McDonagh's defensive play has been worthy of the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman over the past few seasons, but he never had the offensive resume to earn serious consideration. If McDonagh keeps up his level of play for the rest of the season, he could contend for the Norris, and his six-year, $28.2 million contract will look even better for general manager Glen Sather.
All stats unless noted are via NHL.com.