New York Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh (above).

In deals that have gone a long away in re-shaping the roster of the New York Rangers into a formidable bunch of large, angry hockey players, team President and General Manager Glen Sather jettisoned the impish Scott Gomez to Montreal in June of 2009 and sent a 3rd pick to Los Angeles in exchange for behemoth center iceman Bryan Boyle, just 3 days apart.  Somehow Sather got someone to not only take back Gomez’ salary, close to $ 8M per, and to throw in two blue chip prospects–Russian defenseman Pavel Valentenko, a 6’2, 220 lbs. bruiser, and American collegiate and Junior Team USA star Ryan McDonagh, who was the 12th pick in the first round of the 2007 NHL draft.

McDonagh was the University of Wisconsin player on everyone’s lips this summer when he signed an entry level contract with the New York Rangers, and not so much  Derek Stepan, who has quickly caught on to the NHL game and is second on the big club in scoring.  But McDonagh has gotten the call from the Connecticut Whale, and could soon be getting his chance to make an impression with New York, considered a jewel of the organization and the best defensive prospect the Rangers have in their system, with the possible exception of 2010 1st round pick Dylan McIlraith, called by many the toughest player in the draft class.

McDonagh’s call comes at the expense of 2008 1st round pick (20th overall), Michael Del Zotto, who made the club as a teenager and who before his recent demotion, had yet to spend a moment in the minors.  Del Zotto, impressive at times last year as a puck rushing defenseman, had 9 goals and 28 assists in 80 games last year for the big club, and coach John Tortorella’s decision to only carry 6 defensemen meant that MDZ was going to play, regardless of how he played.  This year, the kid has struggled mightily, and with the depth to carry a 7th defenseman, it has become clear of late that the other 6 play much more responsibly than Del Zotto does.  Del Zotto, who should be an asset at least on the power play, is so unsteady on the backline that the team has opted to use a forward, usually Stepan, in MDZ’s place on the point.

At the season’s start, Del Zotto got a bulk of the playing time in the 5/6 pairing, but coach Tortorella insisted that the team’s bottom 3 defenders, MDZ, Matt Gilroy, and Steve Emminger would rotate.  Of late, MDZ’s errors have mounted, and frankly, has been responsible for several obvious goals against.  Emminger has proved invaluable in his minutes, and after a few weeks watching from the press box, Gilroy, a highly touted college player himself from Boston U. who the Rangers signed to a big 2 year free agent contract in 2009, has returned to the lineup a much more settled and confident player, who chipped in with 2 big goals in the Rangers’ epic 7-2 route of the despised Islanders during the snow storm.

McDonagh comes aboard now as the 7th defensemen with no guarantees on when he will debut (probably not tomorrow against Carolina), but his call up definitely sparks more optimism in the Rangers outstanding youth movement.  As for the rest of the club, still excited over the so far so good integration of Norwegian star little man Mats Zucarello, a 23 year old elite scorer in international competiton, the Rangers have lost yet another player to a hand injury–Ruslan Fedotenko.  Fedotenko, who earned his spot on a tryout this summer, and who has chipped in nicely with 7 goals and 10 assists, as well as by being a presence in the corners and in front of the net, is the 3rd Ranager this year to go down with a hand injury from a blocked shot.  On the tough luck in now losing Chris Drury on a block to a broken finger (now returned), extra effort and team engine Ryan Callahan (still out perhaps another 5 weeks), and now Fedotenko, coach Tortorella scoffed at the notion that the team would move away from its gritty, sacrafice the body identity.

 “The other guys broke their hands, and this guy didn’t…I know there’s a lot of talk about blocking shots, we’re blocking shots, and we’re going to continue blocking shots.”

Tortorella has done an excellent job this year, and now inspires much confidence in us, and you’d have to love his attitude.

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