This season, the New York Rangers took the NHL’s Eastern Conference by storm. They rose up to first in the conference and held that position safely for months, won the 2012 Winter Classic (continuing a pattern where the visitors have won every single Winter Classic except in 2010), got some time in the spotlight on HBO’s popular 24/7 series and saw their home barn get some much-needed renovations. Enjoying that first-place berth into the playoffs, the Rangers went all the way to the conference final and their fans were whispering about 1994 in hopeful tones until the New Jersey Devils ousted them in six games.
This was all a far cry from the season before, when the Rangers barely made it into the eighth spot in the conference and were downed in the conference quarterfinals.
Ryan McDonagh, a 23-year-old defenseman for the Rangers, also saw a big improvement. He improved his offensive output to seven goals and 25 assists this season for 32 points total, quite a jump from his rookie campaign in New York, which turned out just nine points, all but one of those as helpers. In the Rangers’ deep playoff run, he put up four assists in 20 games too.
So, he’s finding more success on the scoresheet in the NHL, but he stood out at other levels as well. Born in St. Paul, Minn., and raised in a hockey-crazed state, he led his high school team to their first-ever state championship as a junior in 2006. The following year, he won Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award, given to the top senior player in the entire state.
Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens just after finishing high school, he went on to play three seasons at the University of Wisconsin and racked up awards there too, including 2008 All-Rookie Team and 2010 Second All-Star Team for the conference.
He’s put on a different kind of red, white and blue uniform to represent America in international play, winning a silver medal at the 2007 U18 World Championships and playing at the 2009 World Junior Championships.
But after his junior year at Wisconsin, he signed an entry-level deal with the Rangers and was originally assigned to their AHL team in Connecticut. He got his first call-up to Broadway in January 2011. That season, he also had an injury when he was elbowed in the head by Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of March. Cooke was suspended for the rest of the regular season and the quarterfinals. McDonagh recovered, though, in time to score his first goal, a game-winner against New Jersey that got the Rangers into the playoffs.
So, McDonagh avoided any hint of a sophomore slump and showed big improvement. He’s nearing the end of his entry-level deal and it remains to be seen how the front office in New York may reward him, depending on how his third campaign goes, but he was probably low on the Top 100 list because of his relative inexperience.
Still, if he continues to improve and play a valuable defensive role, while also adding in offensive assistance, he could rise higher on this list in the future. Certainly the Rangers will be getting attention from all sides anyway, what with their acquisition of Rick Nash and their Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist expected to retain his crown.
Highlight Reel: (3)
McDonagh’s first career NHL goal, with the pass fed to him from behind the net by Vinny Prospal, will be the marker that sends the Rangers into the 2011 playoffs.
McDonagh toe-drags, fires a shot past Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals that has NBC commentator Doc Emrick practically buzzing with glee, then his leg gives way and he falls to the ice. But, he returns a few minutes later.
McDonagh puts together some last-second heroics, saving the Rangers from going to a shootout against the Calgary Flames, by making good use of a Dan Girardi rebound. The time of the goal is listed as 4:58 in overtime.
Fun Facts: (3)
- He never touched the ice with Montreal because, before he ever played an NHL game, he was traded to New York along with Christopher Higgins, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik. This deal sent Scott Gomez to the Habs, where he has scored goals so infrequently that there is actually a single-page website–in English and French–devoted simply to telling people when he does.
- His uncle is former NFL quarterback Steve Walsh. Walsh spent his NFL career with Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis over the course of a decade.
- He’s childhood friends with Derek Stepan, who is now a teammate of his in New York.
The Rant Sports Top 100 NHL Players series will examine the top 100 players all across the league. Look for more from the top 100 soon.