"Great moments are born from great opportunity." That is what Ryan McDonagh has in front of him as he steps onto the Sochi ice as a member of Team USA. Herb Brooks' words are an apropos way to bring some context to the situation, because the New York Rangers' top blueliner has a chance to make a name for himself on a world stage.
Each and every night, the former University of Wisconsin Badger is given a chance to showcase his talents to NHL fans, but the entire world will be watching him over the next two weeks as the United States attempts to win its first gold medal since 1980.
McDonagh certainly is one of the NHL's budding defenders on the rise, but will the 2014 Olympic tournament be his breakout performance that thrusts him to elite status?
By all accounts, this tournament will illustrate why McDonagh is one of the NHL's best defenders. This is a statement of fact, because he will get to show the entire world what New York Ranger fans already know.
He will have some level of comfort during the tournament, because he appeared in 10 games with Barys Astana of the KHL during the NHL lockout last season and and seven games with Team USA at the 2007 U18 World Junior Championship in Finland. This experience on the big ice will come in handy, and it will play into No. 27's cache of skills.
Chris Peters of CBS' Eye on Hockey and The United States of Hockey had this to say about McDonagh and his potential to be a game-breaker in Sochi.
McDonagh is here for two reasons. The first is that I believe he will play a substantial role for Team USA, getting big minutes and playing in all situations. An elite level skater with terrific defensive skills, McDonagh has turned his offensive game up this season and is already two points away from his career high. He should be a top-four defenseman who plays a lot against tough competition and on special teams.
As Peters stated, McDonagh is one of the NHL's top skaters, and he uses his speed and agility to control players on the ice. He has been one of the NHL's best shutdown defenders since entering the league, and recently, he has made forwards such as Alex Ovechkin powerless whenever he's on the ice.
Teams such as Canada have a number of offensive weapons, so having McDonagh in a top-four role is going to be huge for head coach Dan Bylsma. Although he will be looked upon for his defensive strengths, he could be an X-factor on offense.
This season, McDonagh has developed into a more competent offensive defender, and he has tallied 30 points in 55 games. His career high is 32, and he's on pace to finish the year with 41 points.
McDonagh has also become a regular on the power play, and his slick passing and hockey IQ have enabled the Rangers to have one of the league's top unit with the extra man.
When you factor in McDonagh's defensive play, he would be a no-brainer consideration for the Norris, but unfortunately, the award has turned into a celebration of the league's more potent offensive defenders.
This is something that likely doesn't faze the young defender, because he is an old-school player who is wise beyond his years. In 2013-14, he has taken on a leadership role with the Rangers, and that is something that should help Team USA in Sochi.
McDonagh discussed this new role with Katie Strang of ESPN back in December:
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. More importantly, for me, I think, is just to to stand up in my role on the ice.
Team USA may have a leadership group in place, but McDonagh can be a secondary leader on a blue line that has mixed talent. It appears that McDonagh will play with Kevin Shattenkirk, and that pairing has the potential to be one of the best duos in Sochi.
The combination of offensive and defensive skill will make the unit very useful, and they are going to be counted on for some important minutes throughout the tournament.
No matter how you look at it, McDonagh is going to have a prominent role in Sochi. He isn't some extra defender crossing his fingers for a break. He is one of the best defenders of American origin, and he's a really good hockey player overall.
McDonagh loves his country very much—just watch him during the national anthem—and he is going to kick it into an extra gear with country pride on the line. Team USA has a good chance to win gold, and should it accomplish such a feat, McDonagh will have played a key role in the team's success.