Part 5 of my Tampa Bay Lightning player evaluations is here, and yet again, I will focus on the blue line. Last time, I touched on Victor Hedman, but this time, it’ll be Ryan McDonagh, who had an incredible season, at least from my memory. Will statistics back him up?
Ryan McDonagh played all 82 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, registering 9 goals (0.11 goals per game) and 37 assists (0.45 assists per game) for a total of 46 points (0.56 points per game). He averaged 22:05 time on ice, starting just 46.2 % of his shifts in the offensive zone. His corsi-for% was a bit low, at 49.5%, but that can be attributed to the fact that a majority of his shifts are in the defensive zone. His takeaway to giveaway ratio was 46 to 66, which is a -20 differential, which is worse than what Hedman put up (-18). McDonagh garnered a 103.9 PDO, which means he had quite a bit of luck this season. He was on the ice for 75.5 expected goals for and 65.8 expected goals against, which is a +9.7 differential, which is better than Victor Hedman (+4).
Ryan McDonagh has never been offensively minded, always focusing more on his transitional game. To put that into perspective, he hit a career high in assists and points this season. So, I am predicting his offensive stats will be a bit lackluster. His solid expected goals for and expected goals against differentials paints me a picture of solid defensive numbers, and maybe even good breakout numbers. But his poor giveaway to takeaway ratio makes me believe his entry game may take a hit. Will the visuals back that up? Let’s look at his advanced statistics compared to that of Hedman on a spider graph.
The basic stats back up most of the graph, where McDonagh’s offense appears lackluster. His transition game is excellent, slightly behind Hedman when entering the zone and ahead when breaking out of the defensive zone. What stands out, however, is his defensive game. He does register more breakups per 60 minutes (breakups60), but he allows a lot of entries, more than Hedman. McDonagh’s transition game was stellar, so let’s look first at McDonagh’s breakout performance using CJ Turtoro’s Exits per 60 minutes visual.
McDonagh ranked 4th on the team in exiting the defensive zone, one spot ahead of Hedman. McDonagh excels at what all defenseman should be trying to excel at, and that’s connect on breakout passes to get it out of the zone. He doesn’t often carry it out himself, and tends to dump or clear it high off the glass and out when he doesn’t have another option. He ices the puck a little too much, likely on errant passes, but like Hedman, it isn’t too much of an issue. He does fail quite often, but like Hedman, he’s the defenseman on his pair that is relied on to generate those breakouts, so failures are expected. How about his work entering the offensive zone? Using CJ Turtoro’s Entry per 60 minutes visual, we can find out how well he gets the puck into the offensive zone.
Like Hedman, and most other defenseman, he’s usually not the one entering the offensive zone. You generally want your defenseman to just dump the puck in deep so he doesn’t overcommit offensively, which McDonagh does. He carries it in himself or passes to a teammate when it’s open, but he has a small workload in that facet of the game. The big thing is he doesn’t fail much. He takes his small workload, in terms of entering the attacking zone, and makes the most of it. Where he stood out over Hedman is his defensive zone coverage and using Sean Tierney’s controlling the blueline visual, we can see where McDonagh stands in the defensive end.
McDonagh is the best defenseman when it comes to holding his own in the d-zone. He has a very good possession exit % (Y-axis) and has a good amount of breakups. This tells me that he plays a more aggressive game, stepping up and keeping his gap close to the opposition, forcing them to make plays, which allows him to have more breakups. He does a nice job getting the puck out often, meaning he cleans up after the breakups that he has. Whereas Hedman seemingly forces the opposition wide, allowing them in but taking away space, and then getting the puck out, McDonagh closes the gap, knocks down a pass or steals the puck, and then moves the puck up ice. Either way, both have been effective in the defensive zone.
Ryan McDonagh is an aggressive blueliner, in a way that he gives the opposition little room to work with offensively. He’s one of the better transitional defenseman as well, doing a clean and consistent job moving north and south. He isn’t as offensively gifted as Hedman is, and has never really been much of a point producer in the past, but he still generally puts up good numbers. With his transition game, tight defensive play, and reliable offensive work, it’s no wonder people think McDonagh is the second best player on the Lightning roster. Next up, we will go back to the offensive side of things with Anthony Cirelli!
Feature image courtesy of Nikos Michals