In the course of his career, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has been asked to shut down offensive dynamos such as Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Wayne Simmonds and Taylor Hall.
On Sunday, McDonagh, the lone Ranger on the 11-man Metropolitan Division squad, will play three-on-three with them as teammates in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
McDonagh, a 27-year-old St. Paul native, is traveling with his wife, Kaylee, but 3-month-old daughter Falan Erin will stay behind with grandparents. “We all went home to Minnesota at Christmas,” McDonagh said Wednesday, “but this is a six-hour flight.”
McDonagh took a minute before the Rangers hosted the Flyers on Wednesday night to reflect on his All-Star selection.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “There’s a handful of guys on this team who deserve to go. They’re very worthy; they’re having great years. I’m going to try to go out there and represent the Rangers to the best of my ability and try to do a little bit better this year.”
The Metropolitan representatives lost to the Atlantic squad, 4-3, last winter in the first round of the three-on-three tournament between the four divisions.
“Second time around in this format,” McDonagh said. “Instead of just five minutes like in overtime during the season, you get 20 minutes of it, so you get a little rhythm out there, as opposed to maybe just two or three shifts in the five minutes. You’ll see a lot of skill for sure. It’s a long way from New York to L.A., so might as well try and win it.”
The smooth-skating McDonagh, who played on the U.S. National team in juniors, the World Championships and the Olympic team in Sochi in 2014, always is in “win” mode. He’s proved that since the Rangers acquired the former first-round pick in a multi-player trade with the Canadiens in June 2009 that sent Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Mike Busto to Montreal.
McDonagh’s first full season with the Rangers was in 2011-12 (he played 40 games in 2010-11). He was paired with Dan Girardi when Marc Staal was injured and began to impress with his combination of speed, tenacity and physical play. Since then, he has blossomed and was named captain in October 2014.
This season, McDonagh became the first Ranger since Brian Leetch to post an eight-game assist streak. He leads the team in average ice time (24:29) and has 10 points in the last 14 games, along with a major supporter in coach Alain Vigneault.
“I would say this year would be probably the continuation of my first year here [2013-14, when McDonagh had 14 goals and 29 assists],” Vigneault said. “I thought he really came into his own offensively, carrying the puck, making plays that led to opportunities. And this year, he came in healthy. He was a good player at the World Cup. He comes in and led this group by the way he conducts himself, a very good voice in the room. That’s what we need from him as our top defenseman . . . and from our captain.”
As teammates have noted, McDonagh has grown into the role. “Is he more comfortable? Without a doubt,” Vigneault said. “Throughout his start, there were guys that were helping him — Marty [St. Louis], Nasher [Rick Nash], guys that have been captains before. But he’s grown into this position. He’s his own man. He understands the culture that we — myself and Gorts [general manager Jeff Gorton] — want to bring to this team, and he’s a great extension of when we’re not around, what to do and how to do it.
“We’re very fortunate to have a gentleman of his caliber as captain.”