Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan McDonagh is the most underrated defenseman in the NHL

Ryan McDonagh is the most underrated defenseman in the entire National Hockey League, and it isn’t even close.

While others generate and dominate the headlines for the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is no doubt that Ryan McDonagh is just as important a piece in this well-oiled machine and we’re really seeing just how elite a player he is during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Game 4 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final was a real statement game for the veteran blueliner, who highlighted why he is just so valuable to this Tampa Bay team, and why he’s one of the best postseason performers in the entire league.

There were several moments that really jumped out in McDonagh’s game on Monday, from blocked shots at key periods in the game, clever stick work to break up dangerous plays, alert play to transition the puck out of the defensive zone, but there was one that will go down as one of the best clutch plays of the postseason.

Or at least it should.

At 17:20 in the second period with Tampa trailing by just a goal and Carey Price having his best game of the series, McDonagh executed two incredible plays in quick succession that highlighted his high hockey IQ and his ability to make a difference in all three zones.

Ryan McDonagh (27)

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27). Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan McDonagh shouldn’t be the most underrated defenseman in the NHL

With Montreal trying to clear the puck, defenseman Jeff Petry attempted to make an outlet pass out of the zone but McDonagh pinched up and deflected the puck in the air and to teammate Blake Coleman.

It was a heads up play but that was only the beginning. As Coleman unleashed a shot towards goal, McDonagh had already charged towards the net, taking Petry with him and thus leaving a large swathe of open ice behind them.

That allowed Barclay Goodrow to get into position and, as Price made the save on Coleman, McDonagh was aware of where his teammate was situated and made an absolutely incredible and sublime no-look pass with his backhand which Goodrow buried to make it a tied game.

There are few superlatives to describe just what an elite-level play it was from McDonagh from start to finish, and you could argue that if it was Victor Hedman or another more talked about defenseman that made the play, then it would have gotten a lot more attention.

But McDonagh makes those kind of plays all the time, and he’s hardly a first-timer when it comes to coming up clutch in the postseason.

Boasting 161 Playoff games under his belt since 2010, which is the most by any player in that span, he has delivered time and time again and he hasn’t missed the Playoffs in his 12-year career which takes in stops with the New York Rangers and the Lightning.

And, while he was a key contributor as the Bolts won the Stanley Cup inside the Bubble last season, there is no doubt that McDonagh is currently enjoying his best postseason and the stats and the eye test back that up.

For instance, he leads the entire league in plus / minus with +17 in the Playoffs, despite lining up against the opponents’ top lines and having just 37.9 offensive zone starts, as opposed to Victor Hedman’s 59.1 percent.

Not only is McDonagh a shot blocking machine with 45 in these Playoffs, in addition to 46 hits, but he has also made a sizeable impact in the offensive zone with seven assists, three of which have come on game-winning goals.

Ryan McDonagh (27)

Ryan McDonagh #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

He tallied the helper on Brayden Point‘s winner in Game 1 of the First Round against the Florida Panthers and he had an assist on Blake Coleman‘s superb diving game-winner in Game 2 against the Canadiens, while he was involved in Yanni Gourde‘s shorthanded game-winner against the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the semifinals, although he wasn’t credited with an assist on that one.

When you consider his wealth of experience, his never-say-die attitude to playing the game and his leadership, which stems back to his days as Captain of the New York Rangers, McDonagh just plays the game the right way and he should be looked upon as a key player on this Lightning roster.

He plays shutdown minutes in all situations and that allows Hedman the freedom to take on more offensive work, and McDonagh is the type of heart-and-soul defenseman that any team would love to construct their blueline around.

A true leader in the room and on the ice, McDonagh’s vast Playoff experience will come in handy during Game 5 as the Lightning look to clinch on home ice, and the fact that he has the best on-ice goal percentage of any Tampa skater (26 goals for, 12 goals against), should tell you just how dominant he’s been in the Playoffs.

So, while he won’t get consideration for the Norris Trophy or enter the conversation for the Conn Smythe Trophy, you can’t understate just how big a player Ryan McDonagh is for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his postseason brilliance this year in particular should be getting a lot more attention.

He’s currently the most underrated defenseman in the NHL but, based on what he has done this summer, that may not be the case any more.