That Ryan McDonagh should be prevalent in the Norris Trophy discussion doesn't exactly qualify as breaking news to members of the New York Rangers.
But after playing a pivotal role for Team U.S.A. at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and completing his fourth NHL season, the 24-year-old defenceman seems to finally be garnering some well-deserved buzz for what he already brings to the table and how high his ceiling might actually be.
After limiting Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin to one goal and two points in seven games during the opening round last spring, McDonagh and partner Dan Girardi helped stifle the Philadelphia Flyers' top unit in a 4-1 victory for the Rangers in the series opener on Thursday.
"This year, people are starting to realize how good he is. The last couple of years, he didn't get the recognition," said Rangers defenceman Marc Staal. "This year, he kind of broke out and made everyone realize how talented a guy and how good a player he is.
"All year long, he's been stellar. We're happy to have him."
McDonagh sat out the final five games of the regular season with a shoulder injury and there was a bit of rust to shake off in the early stages of Game 1.
As he went back to retrieve a puck behind the net, McDonagh got hit by Scott Hartnell, who set up Andrew MacDonald for what turned out to be the Flyers' only goal, at 7:28 of the opening period.
McDonagh also had an uncharacteristic giveaway in the first period, before settling down and getting into a groove, finishing with just under 23 minutes of ice time while limiting Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek to no points and no shots on goal in Game 1.
"I was not myself and just couldn't get a good grip on the puck, couldn't feel my skates," said McDonagh. "But the guys stayed positive with me and I found a way to contribute."
McDonagh's contributions have been plentiful since the Rangers acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens in July 2009 in a multi-player deal that saw Scott Gomez and his hefty contract go the other way.
"He's been so steady for years now. Maybe it's been taken to another level this year and a lot of it is the confidence of playing so big a role now," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. "He has all the tools. He's strong. He's a great skater. He sees the game well, he can shoot the puck. And he's a smart guy. He has all the ingredients to be a good D-man and he's been so consistent."
McDonagh, who averaged just under 25 minutes of ice time per game this season, was chosen 12th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Canadiens before spending three seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA.
Along with blossoming into a shutdown defender with offensive upside, McDonagh is also a relative bargain for the Rangers, who locked him up in a six-year deal that is worth $28.2 million and carries an average annual value of $4.7 million through the 2018-19 season.
First-year Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault isn't only impressed by what McDonagh does on the ice.
"I just like the way he comes to the rink, whether it's for practice or games, he comes and puts in an honest, hard-working effort," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "This year, I've seen him make strides. I've seen him work on his game on the ice and in the video room with the coaches. That's why he's improving on a regular basis."
Despite the deepening pool of talented defencemen around the NHL, it seems like it's only a matter of time before McDonagh wins his first Norris Trophy.
"Why not? He's already up there with the best in the league," said Lundqvist.
It's tough to argue with that statement, especially if you come up against the Rangers during the Stanley Cup playoffs, when the games matter most.
ALL SIGNS POINT TO MASON IN GAME 2
There were no bold proclamations from Steve Mason, but signs point to him returning to the net for the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 against the New York Rangers on Sunday.
While most of the Flyers took Friday off, Mason participated in a one-hour on-ice session at Chelsea Piers with Erik Gustafsson, Jay Rosehill, Chris VandeVelde, goalie Calvin Heeter and goalie coach Jeff Reese.
Mason called it a "good step" and expressed hope that he could start Game 2.
"I'll try my best," said Mason, who is expected to participate in the Flyers' practice on Saturday. "That's definitely my goal."
Backup Ray Emery made 32 saves in Game 1 and was solid for the Flyers, but Mason was 33-18-7 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 61 games this season.
"He was the rookie of the year and was one of the big reasons we got to the (2009) playoffs," said Rangers forward Derek Dorsett, a teammate of Mason's with the Columbus Blue Jackets. "Sometimes when things go bad for a goalie, they go really bad. He hit the bottom, but he's a guy that has pride and he worked his way back. He's one of the elite goalies in the league, for sure."