Every time I watch the New York Rangers, when number-27 Ryan McDonagh steps onto the ice my eyes automatically gravitate towards him. As a former defenseman I usually pay favorites to the guys on the blue line, but McDonagh is a personal favorite of mine.
In a twist of irony, the former first round pick burned the team that originally draft him – then traded him for Scott Gomez (no, that’s not why I choose to write about him). In their game one blow out of the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers were led by McDonagh who registered four points (G, 3 A) and played over 24-minutes of ice time (over seven of which were special teams).
When he made that ‘in between the legs pass’ in front of goaltender Carey Price to set up the team’s second goal I realized – McDonagh is to the ‘T’ what the new age of NHL defenseman look like.
With the ability to skate and make plays in all three zones, McDonagh is set to be one of the game’s premiere defenseman for the foreseeable future.
It has almost become imperative for teams to have that defenseman in order to win at the highest of stages. Look at the last five Stanley Cup winners, and you will find a mobile two-way defenseman at the forefront of each those team’s respective blue line (leave it to the Boston Bruins to break that streak, even then Zdeno Chara is a monster on both sides of the ice, just isn’t as mobile as the others).
What does this have to do with the Florida Panthers? Obviously they have some good defensive prospects playing at the college level that could one day fill that role, but if the Panthers were smart they wouldn’t wait for that and do what the Rangers did – and go get their franchise blue liner.
That is where things get interesting. The Panthers potentially have the opportunity to do just that, grab their franchise blue liner that can lead the team’s defensive group for years to come. All they have to do is go against history and draft a defenseman first overall.
Talent wise, Aaron Ekblad could be the best player in this draft class – but the position he plays have most hesitant (including me) about taking him with the first overall pick. The track record speaks for itself and like they saying go ‘those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it’.
It isn’t like some of the defenseman that have gone first overall have been bad, just maybe not what you expect out of a first overall pick. Watching Ekblad play, he brings everything that you want out of a defenseman – a big shot from the point, two-way potential and is already a man among boys. At 6’4 he will tower a lot of NHLers as well.
Watching McDonagh play, as well as what Doughty means to the Los Angeles Kings – I am willing to at least entertain the idea of drafting Ekblad with the first overall pick, something I wouldn’t have done before.