'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is speaking and acting like a captain. The all-situation defenseman projects the natural confidence of a veteran leader despite only having recently turned 25.
"This year, with the way my play was escalating, I felt more confident as the year went on," McDonagh said. "I think when I was given a lot more responsibility, I was able to step up and help our team win a lot of games."
McDonagh is focused on demanding more from himself each season. His desire is to impact the Blueshirts in all ways possible and serve as a positive example for teammates.
"You've got to push yourself to get better every year," McDonagh said. "I think I took another step this year. Credit to my teammates and my coaching staff for giving me a little more responsibility. Obviously, as a player, you want to make as much of an impact to help your team as you can. That's really my main focus. When they put you out there in situations, you want to try to execute and help the guys win games as much as you can. It's going to be no different next year. Expectations are going to be even higher. I'm looking forward to it."
The rock-solid blue-liner feels that he's ready to take on greater responsibilities next season. Those responsibilities will be increased should McDonagh be named the Rangers' 27th captain in franchise history ahead of the 2014-15 season.
"It would be a great responsibility, for sure," McDonagh said.
McDonagh appears to be a captain in waiting. He has become a more vocal leader with age and experience. Judging by his demeanor on the ice, off the ice and on the bench, McDonagh is ready to pull on a Rangers sweater with the letter "C" stitched on the front.
"Being vocal, it's a fun part of the game," McDonagh said. "You get guys energetic, you keep guys accountable and they do the same to you. Everybody builds around that."
Veteran teammate Brian Boyle describes McDonagh as a team-first character who is desperate to win.
"Mac wants to win," Boyle said. "He probably wants to be the best player on the ice every time he's on. It's an attitude that he has that has made him who he is. It's pretty fun to watch what he's done and what he's going to continue to do. He'll be an exciting guy to watch, for sure."
VIGNEAULT SAYS NEXT CAPTAIN WILL BE CHOSEN NEAR TRAINING CAMP
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he knows where he's leaning when it comes to next season's captain. Vigneault is not tipping his hand. Currently, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Brad Richards are serving as the Blueshirts' three alternate captains.
"I've got an idea where I'm leaning," Vigneault said. "But I'm not going to share it with you."
Vigneault said the decision to name the Rangers' next captain will come near September's training camp.
"I'll let training camp unfold – or maybe I'll make the decision prior to it," Vigneault said.
Vigneault said he will gauge the feedback of several players and team executives before naming the Rangers' next captain.
"I will seek feedback from a couple players, and I will give everyone that's been around our team some input," Vigneault said. "I'm pretty sure we'll be real close to a consensus."
This past season, McDonagh set career-highs in goals (14), assists (29), points (43), power-play goals (two), power-play assists (11), power-play points (13), shorthanded goals (three), shorthanded points (four) and game-winning goals (four). He averaged 24:49 in total time on ice per game during the regular season.
McDonagh was voted by teammates as the 2013-14 Team MVP on April 11. He went on to have a fine playoff campaign, only trailing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for playoff points among defenseman with 17 points. McDonagh averaged 26:48 in total time on ice per game during the playoffs.
With the taste of a disappointing Stanley Cup Final exit fresh in his mouth, McDonagh believes that the Rangers are extremely motivated to return to future Stanley Cup finals.
"You're fortunate enough to get a taste of it," McDonagh said. "You get that taste and you want to get back there as soon as you can. I think this group is motivated right away. We've got the right management and coaching staff that came in and did what they had to do to give us the opportunity. There's no reason to think that we can't give ourselves another shot right away."
NO DECISION MADE ON RICHARDS' FUTURE
Vigneault confirmed on Monday that a decision is yet to be made on the future of Richards.
"As everybody knows, there are decisions to be made," Vigneault said. "We haven't made those yet. We're going to talk and figure it out."
The Rangers have until 5 p.m. on June 30 to decide whether to exercise their final compliance buyout. It is widely expected that Richards will be bought out before that deadline passes.
Richards' current contract runs through the 2019-20 season at an annual cap hit of $6.67 million. The Rangers need every bit of cap space possible to re-sign key unrestricted free agents Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore and give raises to restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore. And they need to have enough cap room to target free-agent additions.
Vigneault said that Richards was the first player he spoke with on Monday. Richards did not appear in front of the media after meeting with Vigneault and taking his end-of-season physical at the Rangers' Tarrytown, N.Y. practice facility.
"I'm a big fan of Brad Richards," Vigneault said.
Following the March 5 trade of ex-captain Ryan Callahan, Richards immediately stepped forward as the Rangers' de facto captain. The 34-year-old center shouldered media responsibilities while crucially passing on wisdom and relaying his experiences to teammates during the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final. Vigneault described Richards as "classy" and "an extension of the coaching staff."
"He is a classy, classy individual," Vigneault said. "We'll see what happens."
Vigneault explained that Richards understands the decision-making process and expects Richards to act like a professional throughout the entire process.
"Brad is an experienced guy that knows we've got some decisions to make," Vigneault said. "They're not easy. We're looking at different things. He's going to be a pro, and he's going to wait until we make up our mind."
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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