By Chris Boyle
Ryan McDonagh earned an All-Star berth for the second straight season following Tuesday’s announcement of the NHL’s All-Star rosters.
The Rangers‘ captain continues to be the anchor of the team’s blueline, but traditional advanced data doesn’t appreciate the dominant player he truly is.
Over the last two seasons, McDonagh has been a mediocre possession player, yet continually produces a dominant goal differential and a sky-high PDO.
Traditional data looks upon this as lucky or fortunate, but location and movement-based data show how he manages to manipulate an above-average PDO.
The Blueshirts’ 2016-17 performance perfectly mimics his. McDonagh is non-reliant on shot volume, but he is dominant at manipulating offensive zone spacing which consistently allows him to disrupt the opposition’s defensive timing. These are essential factors in defining the importance of shot quality.
Last year, McDonagh was the only Ranger with a positive even strength expected goal differential. Even though he is at a 47-49 percent possession player this season, the 27-year-old has been close to the 55-percent xGoal mark and one of the biggest drivers of the Rangers’ offensive success. Like the Rangers, McDonagh’s differential is almost entirely the result of shot creation, not shot suppression.
While McDonagh is on the ice at even strength, the Rangers are a dominant offensive force. McDonagh is able to initiate transition from the defensive zone through carrying the puck or making the outlet pass. With the Rangers’ speed, this is essential for them to maintain elite speed through the neutral zone.
McDonagh is also capable of individual zone entries. In the offensive zone, he continually initiates high-quality shots through multiple slot-line feeds. McDonagh also is adept at finding shooting lanes while getting low shots through to the goaltender for tips and rebound opportunities. These skills contribute to an offensive output that doesn’t settle for clear-sighted shots while also taking shots closer to the net in the high-danger area.
Even with all of this offensive movement on a team that consistently shoots the puck at an above-average rate, McDonagh has only received league average results. His offensive success is sustainable if not on the lower end of reality.
When you are this dominant on the offensive side of the puck, your defensive zone coverage doesn’t need to be elite to continue to push the play in a positive manner.
McDonagh is a good defender and his skating ability allows him to successfully defend off the rush. He has the strength to compete along the boards and win puck battles. McDonagh is slightly above average in all aspects of limiting the highest quality opportunities, specifically the ability to suppress slot-line passes. While he is slightly below average in surrendering high-danger shots, he consistently limits the medium danger for exterior shots.
McDonagh continually delivers what you want from an elite defenseman. Dominating the offensive end is actually good defense in itself and when he is on the ice, the play is consistently in the opposing zone. Add above average shot suppression and it is amazing to think that McDonagh secured his second All-Star nomination without maximizing his on-ice luck.
If he can continue to push the offense at his current rate, he will vault himself into the discussion as a Norris trophy finalist.