By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
It’s easy to overlook now -- when he’s playing 20 minutes a night on the Rangers’ second defense pairing -- but just a mere six weeks ago, rookie Ryan McDonagh
was playing in the American Hockey League and had yet to make his NHL debut.
So smoothly has his transition into the NHL gone that it seems as if the sturdy McDonagh has been with the Rangers all season long.
“When they called me up I knew I was very fortunate, and I just really wanted it,” said McDonagh, 21. “After I got the first one under me I was just praying I’d get another game because I really knew I could play at this level after that first game.”
|Rangers rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh said he is having the time of his life as a Blueshirt, and his strong play over the first 17 games of his career has been rewarded with increased playing time. |
McDonagh, who starred for three years at the University of Wisconsin, made his Rangers debut in a 3-2 win at Dallas on Jan. 7. He has played in every game since, moving quickly from a third-pair defenseman playing roughly 11 minutes per game to a highly-important top-four defenseman playing behind only the team’s shutdown pair of Marc Staal
and Dan Girardi
So far McDonagh has played in 17 games with the Rangers, earning a pair of assists while posting a plus-4 rating. Although he has recorded only six shots on goal, the stay-at-home defenseman has had an impressive even or plus rating in 13 of his 17 games.
“It’s just been so much more fun than I could have ever imagined,” McDonagh said of his early NHL experience. “We are treated first-class, and we have great fans. There are great intense games every night. It’s just so much fun here.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella has been very impressed with how McDonagh’s game has grown this year from training camp, to his time in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale, to now as a New York Ranger.
In fact, so impressed is Tortorella and Rangers’ management with McDonagh that they did not hesitate to trade away the club’s most veteran defenseman in Michal Rozsival in exchange for winger Wojtek Wolski from Phoenix on Jan 10.
“We were very patient, and he handled himself real well,” Tortorella said of McDonagh. “He struggled at first, but he kept coming on and coming on. And that’s why we felt we could make a deal when we were struggling with so many injuries. We let a pretty good defenseman go in Rozy because we felt McDonagh was ready to take the next step. He’s played very well for us here.”
Wolski given an extra day to heal
Tortorella ran a pair of practices on Tuesday -- the first a regular 45-minute on-ice workout, while the second focused exclusively on the power play -- but Wolski did not take part in either.
|Wojtek Wolski |
Wolski, who was forced out of Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Penguins in the second period with a rib injury, was too sore to skate on Tuesday. Tortorella is hopeful that he will be able to practice on Wednesday and then play in Thursday’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden.
“His ribs are sore,” said Tortorella. “Instead of turning it into a lingering thing, we wanted to give him some rest.”
The club’s leading scorer, Brandon Dubinsky
, also did not take part in the first practice. However, he did practice the power play with his teammates after the ice was resurfaced.
“We had a long day on the ice, and just with his leg and all that, we wanted to be smart,” Tortorella said, referring to Dubinsky’s recent stress fracture of the left leg. “It was just a maintenance day.”
Dubinsky is expected to practice on Wednesday and will be in the lineup for Thursday’s game.