The New York Rangers decided to let Anton Stralman go on July 1, and they signed Dan Boyle formerly of the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning to replace him on the second defensive pairing. Boyle is an accomplished defender who has a Stanley Cup on his resume, but he is 38, whereas Stralman is 28.
Despite the vast difference in age, the addition of Boyle ultimately will help the Rangers. He is an accomplished offensive defender who can still make an impact on the power play, but the most valuable role he will play will come as a mentor.
Ryan McDonagh is the Rangers' best defender, and he is arguably one of the best young defenseman in the NHL. He has blazing speed, quick instincts and the ability to render the league's top offensive players useless. However, there is one area in which McDonagh could stand to improve—his offensive game.
With Boyle on the roster, McDonagh will finally have a pure offensive defender he can learn from, and that should allow him to have a great offensive season in 2014-15.
Last season, McDonagh was "let off the leash" by new bench boss Alain Vigneault, and he was given an increase in power-play time. He averaged 2:43 a game in 2013-14, an increase from the 0:38 he averaged in 2012-13.
The increase in playing time led to an increase in offensive production, as McDonagh tallied 26 points at even strength, 13 on the power play and four points while shorthanded. In the playoffs, he exploded with 17 points in 25 games, and Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post heralded McDonagh as a player everyone should be familiar with from this point forward.
This season, there is a good chance that both Boyle and McDonagh will man the points of the Blueshirts' first power-play unit. This will serve two purposes, and McDonagh will benefit from both. For starters, McDonagh will get to see how a power play is properly quarterbacked.
Brad Richards did a decent time during his tenure with the Rangers, but he was a forward. There is something different about a defender manning that role, as mentioned during TSN's coverage during free-agency day on July 1.
Forwards inherently are offensive in nature, but a defender's mindset is different. The primary role of a defender is to prevent offensive scoring chances, and the best ones in the league today are able to contribute offensively while not being a liability defensively when they have the puck in their possession.
McDonagh is already solid defensively, but playing alongside Boyle will allow him to learn how to take those offensive chances while still being solid in his own end. One of McDonagh's biggest strengths is his skating ability and puck-handling, and he should be able to use those abilities in an offensive manner after being mentored by Boyle.
The second facet in which McDonagh will enhance his offensive game is that playing alongside Boyle will give him more opportunities. Boyle's reputation precedes him, so in a power-play setting, opponents will drift toward him since he is a threat to both shoot and distribute the puck.
That will allow McDonagh to float undetected, and the extra room will be enough for him to pick a corner with his patented slap shot. An increase in scoring will lead to McDonagh gaining confidence, and it will validate the offensive chances that he takes.
After watching McDonagh since he entered the league, it is clear that he has offensive awareness. However, it seems that he defaults to his defensive nature in 50-50 situations, and he just needs to be inspired to be more aggressive in offensive situations. The addition of Boyle should push McDonagh offensively and lead to him becoming one of the NHL's top defenders.
McDonagh has the ability—he knows what to do out on the ice—but he just needs someone to teach him so he can be better at what he does. If all goes to plan, there is no reason why McDonagh can't surpass the 50-point threshold this season, and that should enable him to garner serious consideration for the Norris Trophy as the top NHL defender.
The Rangers may have gotten older with the addition of Boyle, but his wisdom and veteran experience can ultimately play a role in the development of McDonagh as he enters the next echelon of NHL defenders.