The Rangers Need Ryan McDonagh to Carry Their Defense

Ryan McDonagh has blossomed into one of the better defenders in the NHL over the course of six seasons with the New York Rangers. During those critical years of growth, the organization did a good job of helping him develop by surrounding him with talented players. This season McDonagh will have to do what players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal did for him, which is take on most of the heavy lifting to allow young defenders like Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei to grow, while also keeping New York competitive.

Greater Offense

One area that seemed to be lacking for McDonagh last season was the offensive side of his game. He wasn’t awful, but he seemed much more conservative at the blue-line where in previous seasons he had the ability to make oncoming forwards look foolish for trying to pressure him.

He’s so strong on the puck that he used to make plays like this at least a few times a game; not that they’d always end up in the back of the net, but they would help keep offensive flurries alive. One specific area where the captain of the Rangers took a hit last season was his shot total; in 2015-2016 the defender pumped 148 shots on the opposition’s net, whereas last season, in two more games, he only had 113 shots.

Some good news for Rangers fans is that they should see McDonagh’s offensive numbers jump in 2016-17. In 2014-2015, McDonagh was third on the team in power play TOI, logging 164:06 over the course of the season. That number dropped to 140:03 last season, but more telling is the fact that he ranked third in power-play time behind Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle. With both defenders departed this season, we should see the 27-year-old American assume his role as the top man on the Rangers’ power play.

The Shutdown Man

McDonagh is one of the best skaters in the NHL; he’s so effortless on his feet that he can take away great chances from the opponent even if he gets beat to start the play. This skating ability allows him to be more aggressive in the neutral zone. Having defenders that are willing to jump up and cut a play down is critical when a team wants to play the transition style that head coach Alain Vigneault covets.

The Rangers have a mix of younger inexperienced defensemen and older declining ones, so we should expect McDonagh to earn more shifts where his primary goal is to shut down the opponents key offensive pieces. The captain has always been steady in his end, but with a weaker defense, he may be asked to play longer more conservative shifts at the end of games to secure wins.

My Take

McDonagh was banged up last season. He took that awful sucker punch from Wayne Simmonds and this brutal elbow from Leo Komarov:

These kinds of plays have the ability to scramble someone’s circuits and get them off their game. That’s why I think he struggled to find his rhythm last season. With Boyle and Yandle both departed, this is now McDonagh’s defense both from a leadership and an offensive standpoint. He’s far and away the team’s best rear-guard, and if they’re going to have any success, it will be on his shoulders.