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McDonagh quietly steady, important for Rangers

Captain out to help them adjust after losing veterans Stepan, Girardi

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Ryan McDonagh is here too. Nobody seems to talk about that.

From Henrik Lundqvist's consistency to Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes getting bigger roles, 18-year-olds Filip Chytil (made the team) and Lias Andersson (didn't make it), Kevin Shattenkirk's adjustment, Marc Staal's status, Rick Nash's contract and 20-something emerging leaders Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Brady Skjei, it seems as if everybody but McDonagh has been a topic of conversation around the New York Rangers' training camp.

 

[RELATED: Rangers season preview]

 

That's just the way it works when you're the one constant nobody worries about and nobody questions.

McDonagh is just that for the Rangers. Entering his fourth season as captain, the 28-year-old continues to grow into one of the best leaders in the NHL, coach Alain Vigneault said.

"Ryan McDonagh is evolving into a real true captain," Vigneault said. "He's using the people around him real well. He's got great influence in that dressing room."

Vigneault worked with Markus Naslund, Henrik Sedin and Saku Koivu as captains during previous coaching stops with the Vancouver Canucks and Montreal Canadiens. He has seen strong leadership at work in a dressing room. He sees that with McDonagh.

"He's one of the best examples that I've ever been associated with," Vigneault said.

The plan is that some of McDonagh's work from the past three seasons, specifically in helping to groom Kreider, Hayes, Miller and Skjei into well-rounded leaders, will come to fruition this season.

The Rangers created holes in their leadership group by buying out the final three years of defenseman Dan Girardi's contract June 14 (he signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 1) and trading center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes on June 23.

Stepan and Girardi, two of McDonagh's closest friends in the game, were alternate captains last season along with Nash and Staal, who both remain in New York.

"It has been a little bit of an adjustment not seeing them [Girardi and Stepan], but at this point in my career here I've seen a lot of players I've gotten close with move on and move to different places," McDonagh said. "It'll be fun to see them on the other side when we play them during the year but right now [I'm] just focusing on this group and trying to get the guys to understand what's expected of them here on a day-to-day basis, how hard we need to prepare, what's expected and the way we need to play."

McDonagh said he's confident that Hayes, Kreider, Miller and Skjei will each take on a bigger leadership role this season, which the Rangers will open at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ALT, NHL.TV).

"These guys have hopefully over the past couple of seasons just learned how hard you have to work and how prepared you have to be, where you're focus needs to be at all times," McDonagh said.

Video: PHI@NYR: McDonagh buries game-winner in overtime

McDonagh's focus never changes. He has laser-like vision when it comes to the small details in the game, giving the Rangers the best chance to be the best team they can be. His job on the ice might be a little bit easier this season because of the changes.

Most importantly, the addition of Shattenkirk as his defense partner should take some of the burden off McDonagh, who last season had to be the blue-line quarterback in all situations.

McDonagh led the Rangers in ice time overall (24:21 per game), on the power play (3:05) and on the penalty kill (2:21) last season. He played most of his 5-on-5 minutes with Girardi, who is not as offensive-minded or fast as Shattenkirk. The result was McDonagh defending more than anyone would like, a reason for his 46.2 shot-attempts percentage. Despite that, he had 42 points, including an NHL career-high 36 assists.

Shattenkirk's mobility and puck-moving creativity should allow McDonagh to have more offensive opportunities in 5-on-5 situations, which equates to easier minutes. Shattenkirk will run the Rangers' first power play, taking some of that heavy lifting away from McDonagh.

McDonagh will get his power-play time, but it'll be on the second unit, which means he should be fresher for his 5-on-5 and shorthanded minutes.

Video: Ryan McDonagh takes the No. 17 spot

Ideally, McDonagh's overall minutes will decrease because of the improved mobility on the Rangers blue line, including a second pair of Skjei and Brendan Smith and a likely third pair of Staal and Tony DeAngelo, another puck mover added in the offseason.

But decreased minutes doesn't mean decreased impact. Quite the opposite, actually.

"My goal is to come in here and be a phenomenal defenseman in all areas of the game," Shattenkirk said after signing a four-year contract July 1. "I think Ryan McDonagh is going to help me achieve that.

"Ryan McDonagh was a big part of my decision [to sign with the Rangers]."

McDonagh is a huge part of everything the Rangers do, even if nobody is talking about him.

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