Last time hockey fans saw Ryan McDonagh, he was hobbling off the Madison Square Garden ice after the Rangers lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to Tampa Bay.
After the Lightning started popping champagne on Broadway, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault revealed McDonagh played the final few games of the series on a broken foot. Trainers tried to "freeze" the foot before Game 7. But the numbness stalled, and the Rangers dressed seven defensemen as McDonagh spent the first few minutes in the locker room.
On Monday, McDonagh's biggest concern in the 90-degree New York weather was trying avoid a sunburn.
"It feels pretty much normal now," he says of the foot. "I'm not even really thinking about it on a daily basis. It doesn't get sore after skates. I'm able to do everything I want to do training wise. Hopefully it's in the past now."
The Blueshirts captain did not go through any specific training treatment and did not need surgery, because there was time to let the bone heal on its own.
"It's just continuing to get stronger and get back to being on the ice as good as it can," he says.
A healthy McDonagh can shift his focus from last spring to this fall. The 26-year-old is in his second season wearing the 'C.'
"I definitely feel a lot more comfortable in it and more mature in that role," he says. "It's something that's feeling much more natural and a part of me. I'm trying not to change who I am. Trying to be a good teammate, guys can look for for examples both on and off the ice, bounce questions off about what it's like to be a New York Ranger and what we're trying to accomplish this year."
Last year, the Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy with a 113 points one season after losing to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. The Lighting pulled an upset and derailed a Blackhawks-Rangers NHL dream series.
"It still stings obviously," McDonagh says of the 2014-15 campaign (not his foot). "You can think back to when we lost to the Kings, those are memories, tough memories and hopefully lessons that keep you going and keep you driving and keep you wanting to get better as a team and an individual. Tampa, being the most recent, only thing you can do is prepare for another season, start from day one and build from there. We can't think big picture. We never do with this group."
Based on the team's recent success, for the second straight summer, the Rangers made minimal personnel changes. Notable moves included moving Carl Hagelin to the Ducks for Emerson Etem and trading Ryan Haggerty for backup goalie Antti Raanta. Jarret Stoll and Viktor Stalberg were also signed, while Martin St. Louis retired.
The Rangers have opened up optional practices, and McDonagh says some of the new signees are already in the Big Apple.
"There is not as much change this year as other teams experience, but for us, that's hopefully a good thing," McDonagh says. "Management believes in us and the group that was in the run the last couple years. A lot of the same guys are back. As for the pieces we added, just being around a few of them this week, there's a lot to be excited for as far as where they're going to fit in. It gives plenty of options in terms of combinations and guys that are willing to do whatever they can to win games for us."
Along with growing into his role as the Rangers' captain, McDonagh is expanding his presence in the New York Community. On Labor Day, McDonagh visited the U.S. Open, where he joined boxer Laila Ali and gymnast Nastia Liukin to support multi-sport play among children. The USTA event is part of September being National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. McDonagh played three sports as a youth: Hockey, baseball and football.
The Rangers open the season Oct. 7 in Chicago.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.