Ryan McDonagh's first journey into restricted free agency could not have gone any smoother, something that the 24 year-old defenseman was thrilled about in the wake of his agreeing to a long-term contract with the Rangers on Monday.
That the process went so smoothly is just as much a credit to McDonagh as it is to the Rangers organization. The two sides showed clear intent from the start that each was seeking a fair deal, and wanted to make a long commitment to the other.
"Obviously first and formost you want to be secure and take care of yourself and your future, and if any player says that is not his number one I think that they'd be lying," explained McDonagh in a Monday afternoon phone conversation. "But you try and find the right match together, the right math. And this was a tricky year with the salary cap going down, and we have other key players to re-sign; but I think both sides worked out a deal that was good and fair to both sides. I have long-term security, and the team still has options and flexibility with the rest of our roster. The whole tone was 'We have a winning atmosphere here and we want Ryan to be a part of it', and I was totally on board with that."
During that phone conversation Monday, McDonagh several times spoke of the dual commitment being shown by him and by the team. He was clearly pleasantly surprised by how the Rangers wanted to commit as much to him, as he wanted to remain an integral part of the Rangers present and future.
"Going through it the first time you don't know how the process is going to go, but really there were no hiccups or anything like that," McDonagh said of the negotiations. "It was a pretty fast moving process, and in my eyes it never got ugly. And that was the goal from the very beginning. In the end they are showing tremendous confidence in me, and it's great to see their commitment to me. Overall it's just an exciting feeling knowing that I am going to be here for quite a while, for sure."
Now that his first post-entry level contract negotiation is behind him and his new deal is signed, McDonagh can look forward---first to his wedding next week, then on to September's training camp under new head coach Alain Vigneault, then to continuing his upward curve as a player on the ice and as a leader in the Rangers dressing room.
McDonagh has made sure to do his homework on the new coach, speaking to current teammate Taylor Pyatt---who played under Vigneault in Vancouver---and some other NHLers who also have played for Vigneault.
"All I have heard is good things," McDonagh said of AV. "He's very professional, he's got a winning passion right from the first time you meet him. I am excited to meet him in person. He knows how to handle younger players and veteran players from everything I've heard; and he seems really up to the task of handling the spotlight of New York, and he seems up for the challenge. I think he's going to be a great fit."
Vigneault has preached that the Rangers will have more freedom offensively this season, and McDonagh said that he already had been working more on that part of his game this summer. With his tremendous skating ability, McDonagh could very well emerge as not only a shutdown defenseman in his own end, but a highly regarded offensive defenseman at the other end of the ice, too.
Along with further developing all parts of his game on the ice, McDonagh is committed to emerging as even more of a leader in the dressing room in the coming season and years ahead. Already well-respected for the way he plays the game, the way he prepares himself physically and mentally, the way he is counted on by his teammates, the way he responds to pressure, and his mature respectful nature, McDonagh is looking to take on more of a leadership role with the Rangers, especially now that his future with the organization is secured.
"As a young player you have to pick your spots when to be vocal in the locker room, but first and formost I try and lead by example on the ice," explained McDonagh. "I've learned a lot from Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, and Marc Staal and just how they act and go about their business each day, keeping an even keel. The greatest thing about our group is how really close we are to one another. There are really no egos in our locker room, and that's due in large part to Callahan. And his example is something I aspire to as far as being a leader on this team."
A future letter wearer? Quite possibly. But right now the Rangers can just be happy knowing that Ryan McDonagh is happy and in the fold for the forseeable future, a main part of the core is rooted right here in New York.