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Wisconsin duo strut stuff at Rangers camp

by Brian Compton
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The University of Wisconsin is well-represented in New York this week.
Two highly-touted prospects, forward Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, are showcasing what they can bring to the table at the New York Rangers' development camp that started Monday and will run through Friday.
McDonagh, 21, was acquired by the Rangers last summer in the deal that sent Scott Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens. The St. Paul, Minn., native was selected in the first round (No. 12) by the Habs at the 2008 Entry Draft. He had 4 goals and 14 assists in 43 games for Wisconsin last season. 
"It's been awesome … just an unbelievable experience," McDonagh told about the camp. "It's a lot of hard work, but I think it's good for us early in the summer here to get a taste of what it takes day in and day out at this level. It's fun getting to know guys and the system."
McDonagh has known Stepan since the pair became teammates at Wisconsin in the fall of 2008. Stepan, who was drafted by the Rangers that year in the second round (No. 51), is participating in his third development camp.
"I know a lot of the guys," Stepan said. "I've kind of been around the block, so it makes things a lot easier and more comfortable. It's a good situation."
"He knows the ins and outs," McDonagh said of Stepan. "It's great. I've kind of been following him around here and getting my way through the maze of this facility. It's unbelievable."
Stepan appears to be on the verge of completing the biggest year of his life. The Hastings, Minn., native played a major role in the United States winning the gold medal at this year's World Junior Championships and fell just one victory short of a national championship with Wisconsin.
And just a few weeks ago, the New York Post reported that Stepan agreed to leave the university and sign his first professional contract with the Blueshirts. Due to restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement, the deal can't be processed until July 1.
"I'm not really sure yet," Stepan said of what he intends to do. "We'll see what happens towards the end of the week.
"It was a roller-coaster year," he added. "At Wisconsin, we had a great year and I got to go to World Juniors at win a gold medal. We tried to win a national championship (at Wisconsin) and fell a little bit short. It was up and down, but it was a fun year from start to finish."
While Stepan's future appears to be set, McDonagh's is still very much up in the air. Considering how closely the Rangers have followed him over the past year, McDonagh is using these five days to showcase his tremendous character.
"I feel like this is a huge week," McDonagh admitted. "I really didn't want to jump into a decision without coming out here first. It was unfortunate I got traded last summer right during this camp. I didn't get a chance to come out here and I didn't get a feel for the staff and the players. Before I make my decision, I want to experience what it would be like out here and just get a feel for it. The staff members get to see me face to face as opposed to a phone call. There's a lot of value there before you make a big decision in your life.
"I think they've followed me enough on the ice and seen me throughout the seasons, so it's more just getting to know what kind of person I am character-wise before I make a step further here." 
Should the Rangers and McDonagh agree that the time is now to begin his pro career, the latter might be giving up an opportunity to captain the Wisconsin squad next season. He admitted it's a major reason why this could end up being a very difficult summer.
"You always think what it would be like to be a leader of a team," McDonagh said. "It can only help you as a person and as a player, taking that next step and having that role in your back pocket. I think it only builds to the value you have as a player."     
"It's been awesome … just an unbelievable experience.  It's a lot of hard work, but I think it's good for us early in the summer here to get a taste of what it takes day in and day out at this level. It's fun getting to know guys and the system."    -- Ryan McDonagh on his experience at Rangers development camp
Desperately trying to acquire Gomez, the Canadiens were willing to part with McDonagh's value to complete the deal. It can't be easy to be traded when you haven't played your first NHL game yet, but McDonagh took it in stride.
"It was a shock, for sure, just in the fact that you get a call out of nowhere and they tell you you've been traded," McDonagh said. "But it really taught me a great lesson that this game's more of a business than just playing it for fun. Obviously I enjoy playing it a ton, but there's a business side of it and it taught me it right away."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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