By Sean Hartnett
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Following the Rangers’ Stanley Cup Final exit, Ryan McDonagh sounded ready to take on the responsibility of captaining the team that had groomed him into one of the league’s best all-around defenseman.

“With the way my play was escalating, I felt more confident as the year went on,” McDonagh said at breakup day on June 16. “I think when I was given a lot more responsibility, I was able to step up and help our team win a lot of games.”

It came as little surprise when the Rangers formally announced McDonagh as the 27th captain in franchise history on Monday night. After all, McDonagh has been “Mr. Everything” for the Blueshirts.

On Tuesday, head coach Alain Vigneault described McDonagh as an individual who has the complete respect of the dressing room and the Rangers’ coaching staff.

“He’s a great role model, he’s one of our hardest-working players,” Vigneault said. “Probably the most important thing is the respect that he has in our dressing room, from the coaches and from management. After giving it a lot of thought and talking to some of the players, his name was a name that stood out. Mac stood out. It was an easy decision.”

Last season, McDonagh was voted by both teammates and the media as the Rangers’ Most Valuable Player. McDonagh led all Rangers skaters with 29.9 shifts per game and 24:49 time on ice per game during the 2013-14 regular season. Vigneault leaned even harder on the 25-year-old during the playoffs, as McDonagh logged 34.6 shifts per game and 26:48 time on ice per game.

Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan will serve as rotating alternate captains.

“I’m very fortunate to have a great group of leaders around,” McDonagh said. “Great guys that have been in the league for a while, past captains and Stanley Cup winners. We’ve got a great mixture of veterans and youth. Collectively, it should be a great group to help lead this team.”

Vigneault plans to have one forward and one defenseman wear the ‘A’s’ during games. With Stepan currently on the long-term injured list, St. Louis will wear one of the ‘A’s’ with Staal and Girardi alternating.

“At the beginning up front, it will be Marty because Step’s out,” Vigneault said.

MCDONAGH HONORED TO SERVE AS 27th RANGERS CAPTAIN

McDonagh spoke of his delight to be trusted with the responsibility of being the face of the Rangers and relaying Vigneault’s messages to the dressing room.

“I’m very excited,” McDonagh said. “I’m very honored and humbled with the opportunity. All the way through the owner, management, the team and the coaching staff; for them to show confidence in me to be the guy to lead this group is a great responsibility and a challenge I’m looking forward to. I’ve gained a lot of confidence the last couple years here and feel very comfortable within the organization and especially amongst the teammates. I think they trust me and understand the kind of attitude and the kind of player I’m going to be.”

McDonagh feels particularly proud to lead a historic team that has won four Stanley Cups and understands the important of representing an “Original Six” franchise.

“It means a lot,” McDonagh said. “This is an Original Six team. This is quite an honor, with the tradition and the expectation that this organization expects from its players. You’re expected to carry yourself very well on and off the ice. It’s something that I’m very aware of and will continue to work at.”

MCDONAGH WON’T CHANGE HIS APPROACH NOW THAT HE’S CAPTAIN

McDonagh said he won’t change his lead-by-example personality now that he’s wearing the ‘C.’ The 25-year-old blue liner feels that, sometimes, the best way to send a positive message to a young player is through good work habits.

He said that the message from Vigneault was “to continue to be the person you are.”

“They’ve given me this responsibility because I’ve prepared myself the way I have,” McDonagh said. “You don’t have to say anything to a young guy. He can just notice you and the way you prepare and carry yourself on and off the ice, as someone that can be looked at from a distance. Obviously, talking and speaking with guys and speaking with the team is very important for sure, holding guys accountable. But it’s the stuff you do when people aren’t looking that makes the difference, too.”

STAAL ON MCDONAGH: ‘HE GOT BETTER AND BETTER AS LAST YEAR WENT ON’

Alternate captain Marc Staal said that McDonagh “seems to get better every 10 games.” McDonagh’s biggest improvement last season came through his development on the power play.

During the 2014 playoffs, McDonagh was tied for first among NHL defensemen with 13 assists and ranked second among NHL defensemen with 17 points. He established a franchise record for assists by a defenseman in one playoff series with eight during the Rangers’ six-game victory over the Montreal Candiens in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“He made the power play better when he got on it,” Staal said. “He got better and better as the year went on, and made some big plays for us when we needed to. I expect nothing less from him this season.”

Girardi agrees that McDonagh’s game will continue to flourish.

“We all kind of knew Mac’s a real young leader on this team,” Girardi said. “He’s only going to get better. He was the definite choice to lead us as captain and lead us in the right direction.”

ST. LOUIS ON MAC: ‘HIS ENTHUSIASM IS CONTAGIOUS’

St. Louis described McDonagh as a “high-class” individual who plays the game the right way.

“His enthusiasm and personality is contagious,” St. Louis said. “He plays the game the right way. He’s a great pro on and off the ice. He conducts himself with high class. It’s a great choice. I’m really glad for him.”

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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