Declaring your team's most important player is not a simple thing. It's not always the most valuable guy or the highest-points producer. It is the player who makes your team go; the one you can't afford to lose, even if all he contributes can't be measured by fancy stats.
Rangers' Most Important Player: Ryan McDonagh, defenseman
For many years, this designation would have gone to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has been the backbone of the New York Rangers for the better part of a decade. And though Lundqvist has remained consistently stellar, the team has vastly improved in front of him, as well.
Plenty of folks assumed the Rangers would drop off once Lundqvist went down with a vascular injury at the end of January, but instead the team kept plugging along. Lundqvist’s injury was dispiriting, but not devastating.
If there is any single player the Rangers can ill-afford to lose this coming season, it is McDonagh.
The 26-year-old captain anchors the team’s back end and leads a defensive corps that includes the likes of defensive partner Dan Girardi, and veterans Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle. McDonagh often draws the unenviable task of matching up against opposing team’s top lines, and his stout, physical presence is what makes the Rangers one of the stingiest teams in the league.
The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers ranked third in goals against last season, giving up only 2.28 per game, behind only the Montreal Canadiens (who have Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Carey Price) and the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
But McDonagh’s abilities are not limited to just the defensive side of the puck. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native chipped in with eight goals and 33 points, leading all Rangers defenseman in scoring. He is a critical component of the club’s specialty units, finishing with 12 power-play points on the season and toiling on the penalty kill.
He is a smooth skater with good vision and led the team with 23:07 in average ice time this season -- even more than work horses such as Girardi and Staal. McDonagh is not the most vocal captain, but he leads by example and is a tough customer. He declined to say what was ailing him after the Rangers were eliminated in the conference finals, though it was later revealed he was playing with a broken right foot.
A young talent entering the prime of his career and blossoming as a leader, McDonagh could play his way into the Norris Trophy conversation with a strong year ahead. The Rangers can’t afford to get anything other than that from him.