I believed it at the end of last season, throughout last summer, into training camp last fall, and after the Rangers made the official announcement on October 6th. And I most definitely still believe it today.
Ryan McDonagh is the right man to be wearing the C on his jersey as the Rangers captain.
That is not a knock on others--like Marc Staal or Dan Girardi or Derek Stepan--who could have also been considered for the team's vacant captaincy following the 2013-14 season, just a belief that the organization got it right when it was decided that the Mac Truck should be the 27th captain in franchise history.
Of course that's not to overlook the fact that his first season as a captain wasn't always the smoothest of rides for McDonagh, either. He admitted on a couple of occasions this year to putting more pressure on himself to perform at a superior level, sometimes causing himself to try and do too much, leading to on-ice mistakes and poor decisions. One of his true assets is how well McDonagh so naturally, almost effortlessly, reads the game. This season there were times he seemed to be overthinking things, caught in between with his decision making as he tried to make the perfect play.
Alain Vigneault said he told McDonagh in the fall that the he and the team only wanted McDonagh to be himself--don't change who he was on or off the ice. McDonagh admitted late in the year that wasn't always easy for him to do; and when he tried to do more in an effort to be step up as the team's captain, sometimes that approach backfired on the ice.
His heart and intentions were always in the right place, which are qualities you want in your captain. There is no questioning how deeply McDonagh cares about the organization, his teammates, and the fans. They are all an extension of his family--yet another quality you want to have in your captain.
As the year wore on you got the feeling the feeling that McDonagh was figuring this captaincy thing out, getting back to his true self--again, on and off the ice. When he angrily spoke out about the Rangers unacceptable performance in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final--a sloppy 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning--we all caught a public glimpse of the leader the Rangers need, and likely see behind the scenes. That kind of loss was no fun. Witnessing the soft-spoken, captain's seething response to that defeat was heartening.
Here's the thing about McDonagh's first year as captain, too: he still was one of the rocks the team relies on so heavily--a top pair defender, who night in and night out is a warrior battling against the other team's top scorers. Ask Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom how that worked out for them over the first two rounds of the playoffs this spring, for example.
Despite missing 11 games with a shoulder injury in November, McDonagh finished the season with eight goals, 25 assists, 33 points and posted a +23 plus/minus mark. Yes those numbers--except for the plus/minus--were off his career-best 14-29-43 set the year before, but I'm sorry, would you bet against McDonagh posting a 50-point season in 2015-16? I sure as heck wouldn't.
McDonagh celebrates his 26th birthday tomorrow. He has five years of NHL experience under his belt, one as captain. He has played in 81 career playoff games already, including one trip to the Stanley Cup Final and three to the conference final--playing a major role in each. He has proven to be a big-time, big-game player--look no further than his season-saving game-winner in overtime to beat the Capitals in Game Five this spring or his 53-minute monster performance in New York's triple-overtime victory over the Caps back in the 2012 playoffs, for proof.
Intelligent, well-spoken, exceedingly well regarded by his coaches and teammates, and an absolute warrior on the ice. And still improving by the day, not even in his prime as of yet despite that Norris Trophy talk in 2013-14. Plus he has learned first-hand from well-respected leaders like Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Martin St. Louis, Staal and Girardi, among other veterans.
Yes, I'll stand by my original thinking and statements.
Ryan McDonagh is the right man to be wearing that C on his Rangers sweater.