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McDonagh truly a happy camper

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh chats with Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, during last week's Development Camp. Meeting key members of the organization at the camp helped make him comfortable with the decision to turn pro.

McDonagh Action from Development Camp

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McDonagh-Stepan Watch from 2009-10

By Dan David,

The Rangers' annual Development Camp for prospects turned out to be the perfect place for 21-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh to make perhaps the most important decision of his hockey life to date.

McDonagh, one of the 19 drafted or signed prospects who attended last week's camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center, came away so impressed with the taste of life as a Blueshirt that he opted to join University of Wisconsin teammate Derek Stepan in leaving the Badgers program to begin a pro career with the Rangers organization.

On Tuesday, after mulling his decision for a few days, McDonagh agreed to terms on his first NHL contract with the Rangers. It was a big moment for the former Montreal Canadiens first-round draft pick, who came over to the Blueshirts as part of the high-profile June 30, 2009, trade involving Scott Gomez.

"I have so many people to thank," said McDonagh, when asked how he felt to now be a pro player. "I obviously couldn't be here today if it weren't for my parents and all the coaches I had growing up. It's just a credit to my family and all my coaches who helped me develop as a player to get where I am today."

Although he could have returned to Wisconsin as captain of a Badgers team that he helped lead to last spring's NCAA championship game, McDonagh felt the week he spent at the MSG Training Center made his decision to leave much easier.

"The camp was important for a lot of reasons," he said. "First and foremost, I got to meet some of the Rangers staff members face to face and to have them meet me as well. Second, I got to know some of the other players in the organization. I thought it was important to build some relationships with them during a tough week of camp and getting to know them. The third thing was more for myself. I know the pro game is different from the college game, and I wanted to see if I was physically ready and mentally ready and everything like that."

McDonagh was one of the best players on the ice throughout the four days of scrimmaging, and his fitness level was never in question, since Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, still marvels over McDonagh's performance at the NHL Combine three years ago prior to the 6-foot-1, 222-pound defenseman's draft day. Clark was one of the many people that McDonagh spoke with extensively while at the Training Center.

"The camp went really well, and it got better every day," said McDonagh. "I just felt great after the camp and felt like this was definitely a spot for me. And they felt the same way as well. It worked great. It was perfect."

Friends since childhood and teammates for the past two years at Wisconsin, Center Derek Stepan, left, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh will now enter their first NHL training camp together as Blueshirts.
During the Development Camp, the Rangers announced that Stepan had agreed to terms on a contract and would be leaving Wisconsin after two seasons. Seeing his close friend make such an important decision was another landmark moment for McDonagh, and he couldn't be more thrilled about entering his first NHL training camp along with his Badgers teammate.

He is also grateful to Stepan for giving him space to make his own choice about when to begin his pro career.

"Derek and I are great buddies, obviously," McDonagh said. "We are best of friends. We have been playing together at Wisconsin, and we played against each other growing up. Obviously, he was pretty supportive and everything. I bounced a lot of questions off of him, but he wasn't really drilling me too much in terms of asking what I was thinking. He kind of just left that for myself, which was good. Obviously to have seen him make the decision is exciting for both of us to be doing this at the same time."

McDonagh and Stepan seemed destined to be champions as they tore through the NCAA tournament with Wisconsin last year. They made it to the final, where a Boston College team that included Rangers prospect Chris Kreider ended their run. While that moment was truly disappointing, McDonagh said there is nothing he would change about the route he took to this point in his career.

"In my situation, being from Minnesota and growing up playing high school hockey, it was always my dream to play college hockey, and I couldn't have been at a better place than Wisconsin," he said. "I wouldn't trade my three years there for anything. It has been unbelievable.

"The coaching staff has helped me so much and all the players have made it such a fun place to play. It's a great school academically, and you always have a chance to win the national championship, which was one of the main reasons I chose them. Unfortunately, I didn't get that goal accomplished, but the fact of the matter is that I was there and had an opportunity. Looking back on it, I wouldn't have changed that decision to choose Wisconsin, for sure. It definitely was the greatest place for me."

More than 20 years ago, goaltender Mike Richter left the University of Wisconsin early to join the Rangers organization. Richter, however, never truly left school. He earned his college degree while playing for the Blueshirts and later went to graduate school after his retirement. McDonagh, a two-time WCHA All-Academic team member, might be leaving the hockey program, but he still sees himself as a Wisconsin student.

"One of the perks of going to a big university such as Wisconsin is that they honor your scholarship as long as it takes you to get your degree," McDonagh said. "I'm going to try to chip away at it as best as I can during my pro career. We have a great academic staff, and they have already started working on stuff to make sure that it's all laid out and organized for me to complete my degree, no matter how long it takes."

Known as one of the best shut-down defenseman in college hockey, McDonagh will have a chance to follow in the footsteps of fellow blueliner Matt Gilroy in jumping from the NCAA title game into an NHL roster spot. McDonagh understands the challenge that lies ahead of him, and he has his sights firmly set on training camp.

"I'm just working hard right now. I'm not trying to think too far ahead. I'm just trying to work out and take care of my body and get myself in the best shape for camp," said McDonagh. "Then, when I'm out there (at training camp), I'm just going to try to play well and show them that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to play at the highest level in New York with the big team.

"Obviously, that's the main goal that I have in mind. Whatever they feel is best for me as far as my development, I'll go with that, but obviously my main goal is to go in there and show that I'm a team guy and want to help the organization be as successful as possible."
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