By Sean Hartnett
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Following Thursday's informal skate, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh reiterated the belief that he's ready to take on a key leadership role ahead of the upcoming season.
"Absolutely," McDonagh said. "My focus is to make sure I'm working hard and trying to do the right things on and off the ice to prepare us to win games. As a teammate, guys look up to you and expect that out of you. They expect you to perform at the right level and bring the right attitude."
McDonagh is the clear favorite to be named the 27th captain in franchise history once training camp gets underway. The Rangers begin training camp on September 18, and head coach Alain Vigneault previously indicated that he will announce a decision near training camp.
"I'll let training camp unfold, or maybe I'll make the decision prior to it," Vigneault said on June 16.
Including McDonagh, there is a wealth of strong candidates whom Vigneault could call upon to captain the Rangers in 2014-15.
39-year-old winger Martin St. Louis remains the most experienced and vocal player on the Rangers' roster. He served as the Tampa Bay Lightning's captain last season before being dealt to the Blueshirts at the March 5 trade deadline. Alternate captains Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are also in the mix.
The Rangers and Staal are continuing to negotiate a long-term extension. While a new deal is yet to be agreed upon, it will be surprising if the Rangers do not lock down Staal to a lucrative, long-term extension before the start of the 2014-15 regular season.
St. Louis has one year remaining on his current contract. McDonagh is signed for the next five seasons, while Girardi's six-year, $33 million extension kicks in this season.
Back on breakup day on June 16, McDonagh said that captaining the Rangers would be "a great responsibility."
"It would be a great responsibility, for sure," McDonagh said. "Being vocal, it's a fun part of the game. You get guys energetic, you keep guys accountable and they do the same to you. Everybody builds around that."
He certainly sounds ready to wear the "C" and lead the Rangers.
RANGERS SIGN MALONE TO ONE-YEAR DEAL; MCDONAGH SAYS HE AND TEAMMATES ARE EXCITED
When McDonagh skated off the ice at the Rangers' Greenburgh, N.Y. training facility, he was unaware that winger Ryan Malone had agreed to terms with the Rangers on a one-year contract.
Once learning that Malone had signed a one-year deal, McDonagh flashed a beaming smile. McDonagh and teammate Derek Stepan had trained with Malone in Minnesota during the offseason and had invited him to the Rangers' informal workouts in Westchester.
"I think the players are really excited to have him," McDonagh said. "I've played against him since I came into the league. I always thought he was a big presence out there physically, tough to move in front of the net."
McDonagh noticed that Malone is very appreciative and motivated by his second chance. The 34-year-old winger was arrested during the spring for DUI and cocaine possession.
"Just working out and skating with him, I could tell that he was very motivated," McDonagh said. "What he went through can really change your life and put things in perspective. He was willing to do whatever it takes to get an opportunity somewhere. Fortunately for him, New York was interested."
McDonagh has described Malone as a "no-ego" character who loves to battle hard and is willing to put the team above everything else.
"He's willing to do whatever it takes to win," McDonagh said. "There's no ego with him. He's willing to put the team in front first. He's willing to battle and do whatever he can to help the guys win."
Malone has agreed to a reported one-year, two-way deal that would carry a $700,000 cap hit should he remain in the NHL. If he is sent to the AHL, Malone's cap hit will be $100,000.
Similar to bargain offseason signings Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi, there isn't any guarantee that Malone makes the Rangers' opening-night roster. Malone, Stempniak and Lombardi will fight for roster spots with youngsters J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Ryan Haggerty, Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo and veteran Chris Mueller.
Malone did not practice with the Rangers on Thursday. A team spokesman confirmed that Malone will return to the Rangers' informal skate on Friday. Malone finished the 2013-14 season with five goals and 10 assists (15 points) in 57 games.
The signing of Malone puts the Blueshirts at exactly 50 players under contract. Earlier on Thursday, the Rangers finalized a one-year deal with defenseman John Moore.
MCDONAGH DESCRIBES DAN BOYLE AS A 'DIFFERENCE-MAKER'
McDonagh has been impressed by 38-year-old defenseman Dan Boyle's work ethic during informal practices. He views the skilled two-way defenseman as an individual who can be a difference-maker every time he's on the ice.
"Right away, you can see his work ethic," McDonagh said. "He's determined to keep himself in good shape and be a difference-maker every time he's out there."
The Rangers signed Boyle to a two-year, $9 million contract on July 1. He will be counted on to inject life into the Blueshirts' power play. Throughout his time in San Jose, Boyle often produced high point totals hovering around the 50-point mark. He is coming off a down year, having collected 36 points in 75 games in his final season in San Jose.
McDonagh is excited by Boyle's presence and is looking to soak up the wisdom that the veteran power-play quarterback is willing to pass along.
"I was really ecstatic when I heard that we had got him," McDonagh said. "Knowing his past experience and him playing at this level for so long, any time you can pick up a guy with that kind of experience you try to learn from him."
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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