At the beginning of his fourth season, Ryan McDonagh entered having signed a six-year contract extension worth $28.2 million. Only 24, the defenseman the Rangers stole from the Canadiens has developed into one of the game’s premier blueliners.
A strong skating defenseman who has partnered with Dan Girardi to form the club’s top pair, McDonagh has assumed a leadership role helping fill a void left by former captain Ryan Callahan. Having represented Team USA in Sochi, he has not missed a beat under Alain Vigneault. Not only has he continued to log the most minutes (24:48 TOI) on the blueline drawing tough assignments against opponents top lines. His offense has been instrumental down the stretch.
In Monday’s come from behind 4-3 overtime win over the Coyotes, he set up Girardi’s game-tying goal and scored the winner finishing with a goal and two assists. During the Rangers’ four-game win streak, McDonagh has tallied at least a point in each game. He has two goals and four helpers with both markers game deciders. Over his last 11 games, McDonagh has 12 points (5-7-12).
Such clutch play is hard to ignore. You can make a pretty good case for him being included in the Norris discussion. In 73 games, McDonagh has posted 13 goals with 29 assists totaling 42 points. All career bests. That puts him tied for 12th among defensemen. His 13 goals tie him with Oliver Ekman-Larsson for sixth. McDonagh has also established new personal bests in power play goals (2), power play points (12) and his three shorthanded goals lead the team.
In order for Mac Truck to be considered, it will come down to how voters view the race. Will they reward offensive dynamos such as past two recipients P.K. Subban (10-40-50) and Erik Karlsson (D leading 20 goals, 69 points)? Another former winner Duncan Keith is the frontrunner with six goals, 51 assists, 57 points and a plus-24 rating. His closest competition could come from Alex Pietrangelo, who is the back bone of the league-leading Blues. He’s currently sixth among defensemen in scoring with 49 points (8-41-49), 22 penalty minutes and plus-22. Another strong candidate is the Pens’ Matt Niskanen, who has 10 goals, 41 points and ranks second among blueliners in plus/minus (31). Other potential candidates include Shea Weber (18-28-46), Victor Hedman (12-35-47), personal favorite Brent Seabrook (39 points, +30) and Zdeno Chara (16 goals, +24).
If McDonagh can continue to finish strong, he builds a stronger case. It might just be that it’s not his time yet. But for those who watch him, we know how special he is. Especially on a low scoring team that emphasizes the team concept. McDonagh ranks fifth on the Rangers with 42 points. The next closest defenseman is Girardi with 22. Such a discrepancy is eye popping. At 24, he’s already the team’s best blueliner and should get consideration for captain next Fall.