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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Ryan McDonagh

Rangers defenseman discusses ice time, strong start, impact of new players

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh:

NEW YORK -- Ryan McDonagh's minutes are up this season, and both he and the New York Rangers are thriving because of it. 

McDonagh is 12th in the NHL with an average ice time of 24:36 per game, up from 22:21 last season. He is second in the League with eight assists, including at least one in a career-high seven consecutive games, the longest streak for a Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch 20 years ago.

McDonagh has played 23 or more minutes in seven of the Rangers' nine games (77.8 percent), with New York going 5-2-0 in those games. He played 23 or more minutes 38 of 73 games last season (52.0 percent).

"I've loved it so far," McDonagh said. "Any time you get those high-minute games the plays just happen a lot quicker for you. You see the ice continually throughout the game. Your rhythm stays there the whole game. That responsibility you have playing in a lot of situations, you want to step up for your teammates and be a big part of hopefully a win. I've played a lot here these first few games and the body is feeling really good, and the mind is right there with it."

It helps that the Rangers have been one of the NHL's better possession teams this season. They are third in the League in shots on goal (31.8) and have allowed the fourth-fewest shots per game (26.0). They are 13th in even-strength shot-attempts percentage (50.95).

"We're not spending as much time in our zone so hopefully that can continue because those are the minutes that really drag on you, when you're defending hard," McDonagh said. "If that continues I don't see why those minutes will be a problem."

McDonagh would love to keep playing big minutes, more than 25 per game if possible. That would seem to benefit the Rangers too considering they are 22-1-2 in games when he has played 25 or more minutes since Oct. 16, 2014. They are 2-1-0 in such games this season.

However, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault isn't enamored with the idea of McDonagh playing 25 minutes per game. It's fair to wonder how much longer he'll average more than 24 minutes per game. He hasn't gone over 23:29 in the past four games.

"I know our record is real good when he plays 25 minutes or more, but I think if you look at the 82-game schedule, how condensed it is in certain areas, I think that's a lot of minutes for any defenseman in this league," Vigneault said. "So I'd probably prefer to keep him around that 23-, 24-minute area. But he's a guy that can log can tons of minutes. He's just a horse. He loves to play. He's a great skater. Guys that skate well can play a lot of minutes and he's one of those guys that can do that.

McDonagh spoke more about the Rangers' start to the season with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with … Ryan McDonagh:

You mentioned that after the first few games that one of the best things about the start to the season is how quickly the Rangers found their identity as a speed team. What has the benefit of that been through nine games now?

"We just know what's expected from each one of us, how you have to prepare in order to go out and execute in that fashion team-wise. We know the plays that are expected to be made and have to be made in order for us to play that style and give ourselves a good chance to win. It's nothing fancy. It's just a simple approach."

Do you think this team is better than it was last season as a result?

"I would say I guess yes because of the way this team has looked so far, the commitment we have both offensively with our speed and skill, and using that speed and skill defensively too. We're using it both ways. You see guys having good back pressure, backchecking really well, quick to contact in our zone and able to jump on loose pucks and get going right away. With all those things I think we have a better chance of winning right now.

"A lot of the time last year we were chasing the puck. I felt like we've had the puck a lot more this year. At times last year it felt like we were just chasing, couldn't sustain any offensive-zone pressure. They would make one or two plays and were out of our zone. Especially in the Pittsburgh series [Eastern Conference First Round] we weren't able to sustain pressure or put a lot of pucks on net. So far we've been getting a lot of offensive looks this season. Over the course of a season it takes a lot of work and preparation to make that happen, but hopefully over the course it creates a winning record."

Let's talk about a few players, starting with Brady Skjei. He got some time last season, including in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but of late he's made some plays that stand out, including one against the Arizona Coyotes and another against the Tampa Bay Lightning that led directly to goals. What stands out to you about him?

"I think he's just making the right reads. His strength is his skating ability and obviously he knows that. He's a good skater. He can keep up in this league both forward and backward. When he has the puck on his stick he's making the right reads for when it's the right time to make a rush and create things or defensively when it's the time to step up and be aggressive and use his skating ability there. I think he's been real good in his reads in understanding when it's time to be patient and when it's time to be aggressive and make something happen. As a young player that's a fine line. You want to go out and make an impression and gain confidence. But I think as defenseman sometimes you have to wait for it a little longer than a forward would. It's not an easy league to break into as a defenseman. There are only six spots on most nights so the numbers are against you, and it's obviously very tough now with the rules and speed of the game. I like the fact that he's understanding what his strengths are early on in his career with us and finding the right time to utilize them."

Every time I watch Jimmy Vesey play I keep thinking he reminds me of Zach Parise and the way he plays. Is that a fair comparison?

"The biggest thing I've said anytime someone asks me about Jimmy is his strength on the puck. He's strong when he has it. It's tough to get it away from him, tough to push it off of him. One thing for sure with Zach, he's low to the ground, and Jimmy might be taller and bigger but he seems like he's lower to the ground and he plays like he's underneath guys when has the puck. That's a tough thing defensively to try to push him away from it. When you think of Zach he's also strong on the puck, tough to get it away from him. He's real good below the hash marks and Jimmy is displaying that. He has those cutbacks and the ability to make those little passes to support and be able to get a shot off in the tight area too, which is something Zach has made a living doing."

Mika Zibanejad has had an impact with the Rangers so far, similar to the impact Derick Brassard had when he first arrived to New York. But how different has Zibanejad made the lineup with the impact he's had, the skill he's brought, the chemistry he's had with Chris Kreider and for a few games Pavel Buchnevich, and the fact that he's a righty too?
 
"It's been huge, just that different look with that right-handed shot. I've never really played with any right-handed centers with that kind of skill besides Step [Derek Stepan]. Now we've got two of those guys and it gives you a totally different dimension added to our team's offense, both power play situations and 5-on-5 stuff. His length and his reach are huge for him, passing around guys and getting to pucks. Obviously he's a great playmaker, but he's a threat to shoot and that makes him a dual threat. As a defenseman you know he can shoot so you may take the lane away, but then he's passing off to someone else who is open. He's got a great chemistry going with some guys and it's been exciting to see. I think that size is a big advantage for him too. He uses it to protect pucks on the wall and to create space for himself. He's gained confidence here pretty quick in understanding he's a big part of our team."

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