McDonnell was a member of the Detroit Red Wings organization for 18 years, winning four Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008). He was appointed the club's Director of amateur scouting in 2003 and served in that role until he joined the Stars. He was hired as an amateur scout by Detroit in 1995 and was an integral part in drafting Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen, amongst others.
The Kitchener, Ont. native played professional hockey for seven seasons, including three in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins. In 50 career NHL contests, he recorded 12 points (2-10=12) and 34 penalty minutes. Additionally, McDonnell served as head coach of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) from 1986-95, qualifying for the postseason in each of his nine seasons.