By my estimate, Ryan McDonagh has easily been the best Ranger this season. If he’s not in the Norris Trophy conversation, it’ll be a travesty.
Unlike the other two players on this list, he has impressed from Day 1. He was brought over from the Montreal Canadiens in June of 2009 in the Scott Gomez deal and very quickly became the Rangers’ top prospect.
He too left college as a junior to sign with the Rangers but began his professional career in the AHL. In 2010-11 he skated in 38 games for Connecticut before being called up to finish the season with the Rangers, and he did nothing but impress.
Through 40 games, he scored nine points, but it wasn’t offense that defined him. His skating ability was top-class, just like his defensive positioning, stick-checking ability and determination.
In 2011-12 he was forced onto the Rangers’ top pairing, with defenseman Marc Staal set to miss a bulk of the season with post-concussion syndrome. McDonagh seized the opportunity and proved that, although he was without a wealth of NHL experience, he was ready to be a top-pairing defenseman. He and Dan Girardi acted as the anchors of the defense, and—along with Henrik Lundqvist—they carried the Rangers deep into the playoffs.
2012-13 was also impressive for McDonagh, but it wasn’t until 2013-14 that the St. Paul, Minn. native forced himself into the elite-defenseman conversation.
It was always believed that he owned untapped offensive potential, but under John Tortorella it was never realized. With the introduction of a more offensive head coach in Alain Vigneault, there was hope McDonagh could transform into a two-way defenseman.
His 43 points in 77 games are good enough for 16th in the NHL amongst defensemen, while his 14 goals are more than he’s scored in all three of his previous seasons combined and rank seventh amongst defensemen league-wide.
He now anchors the power play, and his defense is as good as and maybe better than it was in the past. He’s become one of the most complete defensemen in the league, and in a perfect world he would be considered for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
Except the Norris is one of those trophies where a pedigree is required, and McDonagh lacks one currently. But he’s the complete package, and if he is not considered this season, he most certainly will be in the mix in the future.