Ryan McDonagh has established himself as an elite defensive defenseman. It’s time for him to do the same as an offensive defenseman.
Ryan McDonagh isn’t just one of the best young defensemen in hockey, he is one of the best defensemen in hockey. He really can do it all – defend, skate, pass, shoot, create – and the Rangers have really leaned on him over the past little while with the absence of Marc Staal. McDonagh has proven to be up to the task, creating a very effective shutdown pairing alongside Dan Girardi.
However, with Staal now healthy, the Rangers may want to give McDonagh more of an opportunity to show off his offensive abilities. He will still be relied upon to play heavy minutes against really good players, but new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is a proponent of activating defensemen in the offense as much as possible.
Reason #1 – Coaching change
McDonagh flourished as an NHL player playing under John Tortorella, but he will flourish as an offensive contributor under Alain Vigneault. Vigneault likes to create roles for his players, and in Vancouver he leaned heavily on Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler from an offensive standpoint. I could see McDonagh playing a similar role to the one Edler had with the Canucks – a steady dose of offensive zone starts, tough minutes (but not the toughest), and a wealth of ice time on the power play.
Reason #2 – Power play ice time
In 2013, McDonagh averaged only 0:38 per game on the PP (and 2:41 per game on the PK). Staal, Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman, and Steve Eminger all averaged more man advantage ice time per game than McDonagh did. Even with his elite defensive abilities, he should be playing more in all important situations than most of the aformentioned defensemen.
And going back to 2011-12, McDonagh saw only 0:37 per game on the PP (fifth among Rangers defensemen). He still had seven goals and 32 points that season, which is really impressive considering the lack of power play ice time he received.
In Vancouver, Edler has averaged close to (or above) 3:30 of PP ice time per game over the past few years. Now there could be some competition from Del Zotto for this role with New York, and it may make more sense to give Del Zotto more of a pure offensive role (as he isn’t nearly as good as McDonagh defensively). But sooner or later McDonagh is going to force his way into more offensive situations. He’s simply too good to continue to play the role of shutdown defenseman.
Including the playoffs over those past two campaigns, McDonagh has played the third-most minutes (4,021) in the NHL behind only the Kings' Drew Doughty (4,206) and Girardi (4,170).
Reason #3 – Talent
McDonagh played the second toughest minutes on the Rangers back end last season behind Girardi (a 45% offensive zone start rate combined with a high quality of competition number). However, he still found a way to drive possession from the defensive end to the offensive end of the rink. His Corsi Relative rating of 6.0 was second only to Stralman, who was given a very