Over the past couple of seasons, the New York Rangers defense has been the biggest concern to both its management and fans. With players like Marc Staal and Dan Girardi getting older, the question then became- Who would the Rangers find to help support the blue line? Enter 23 year old, 6’3″ tall, 211 pound Brady Skjei.
Skjei entered the National Hockey League during the 2015-16 season, but only was called up for seven games. He tallied no points and played minimal ice time. Fast forward to the beginning of the 2016-17 season; Skjei enters the scene as a full time, top four defenseman. He played in 80 games this season, tallying five goals and 34 assists for a total of 39 points. These 39 points made him the first Rangers rookie defenseman since Brian Leetch (1988-89) to tally at least 39 points and 20 even-strength assists (27 total). This stat marked Skjei fourth among all NHL defenseman this season, and his total 32 even-strength points tied him in eighth place among all defenseman.
Brady Skjei an Emerging Star for the New York Rangers in Playoffs
In an interview with the New York Post, Skjei, in response to a personal scouting report questions says- “I’d say good skater. It’s probably my No. 1 asset is my skating ability … can make a good first pass and can make plays in the offensive zone and is reliable in the D zone and can play a physical game.” Boy, is he right. Skjei’s ability to move the puck up ice quickly and efficiently while able to pass it off cleanly is the best part of his game. He can make a play in the defensive zone, turn the play around and wheel the puck up through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. It is quite remarkable. His awareness is suburb and his decision making, for a rookie, is impressive.
We now turn to the playoffs. By now, it is easy to pick who has been the Rangers best defenseman, and arguable their best overall player so far this playoffs. Hint: it is Brady Skjei. In the New York Rangers First Round series against the Montreal Canadiens, Skjei was impressive. He played tight, physical defense, and generated offense, sometimes even getting down low towards the net mouth. A strategy that led him to tally two goals against the Habs and Carey Price. Skjei and the Rangers would win that series four games to two and would knock the favored Canadiens out of the playoffs.
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) April 21, 2017
Partners in Crime
Rangers teammate and defensive partner (during the majority of NYR-MTL series) Brendan Smith said the following about Brady Skjei and playing with him- “Now playing with him, I’m kind of in awe with some of the plays he makes. He’s wiser than his age. People talk about a young guy in the league making rookie mistakes, and I don’t really see that with him.” (Via the NY Post)
“He’s strong defensively, we see his offensive skill, especially [in Game 5],” Smith said. “I’m really impressed with him, and he’s strong on both sides of the ice, and that’s what you need from a D-man.” This is exactly what the Rangers want. They have been known as a speedy team who can move the puck up ice quick and get shots off, and having a defenseman who can do just that and more, well that changes things up a bit.
“He can skate himself out of trouble and skate himself back into the right positions,” teammate and Captain Ryan McDonagh told NHL.com. “He realized throughout the season when is the time to jump and when is the time to be patient. He’s just making real good reads.”
Also to mention- Skjei is pretty disciplined. In the Montreal series, he only had two penalties in minutes, or a single minor penalty. With most rookies, discipline is the hardest part for them to hammer down, but with Skjei, he keeps a cool head, and does it when it matters most.
Taking That Momentum into Round 2
Brady Skjei's four goals in the playoffs are tied for the most by a NYR rookie dman in franchise history (Reijo Ruotsalainen – 1981-82).
— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) April 29, 2017
The Rangers are currently in the Second Round, and are in a hole. Down two games to none against the Ottawa Senators, the Blueshirts are looking for a comeback. It is now a five game series, four games of which, the Rangers have to win, if they wish to keep their playoff hopes alive.
In Game One, Skjei was not his usual self. He had two penalties and was not putting the pressure on Ottawa’s offensive weapons.
As Game Two came around April 29, Skjei played like a monster. He tallied two goals and played remarkable defense. He was by far the Rangers best player of the day. His best play came in the third period of the game.
About five minutes into the period, Ottawa broke free into a three on one, the only Rangers back were goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Skjei. As the Senators players moved in and began to set a play up, Skjei got into defensive position. Timing it up just right, he laid out as soon as a pass emerged from a Sens stick. He blocked the pass and broke up the play. You would think it would end there. Skjei then got up, wheeled down ice, took a pass and fired it five hole on Senators goalie Craig Anderson. It was an amazing display of clutch-ness and skill, making Rangers fans jump up and down. Watch the play here.
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) April 21, 2017
Still Finding His Way
His contributions were not enough however, as the Rangers fell to the Senators 6-5 in double overtime. Skjei sat for the final six or so minutes in regulation that Saturday, when Ottawa erased a two-goal deficit in the final five minutes of the game. It was puzzling to see Skjei sitting, especially since it happened once before; in Game Six of the NYR-MTL series, he sat the final ten minutes of regulation in the Rangers series clinching win.
“Have to talk to coach about that one,” Skjei told the NY Post. “I can’t say anything about that. Just have to keep playing the way I’m playing and don’t look too far into that at all. Try to stay positive and keep making plays.” As the New York Rangers return home to Madison Square Garden and attempt to give the Senators a fight, keep an eye out for Brady Skjei, who, all-in-all, has been fantastic for the Rangers and is a player every Blueshirts fan is excited to see grow and play.
A Place In Rangers History
Earlier, it was mentioned how Skjei was the first Rangers rookie to score as many points as Brian Leetch. Yes, the legendary, Stanley Cup winning Leetch. Turns out most people are comparing Skjei and his play style to Leetch’s. At first that may sound crazy, but after thinking about it, it is true. Even Leetch himself said it.
In an interview with NHL.com, Brian Leetch praised Skjei for his play this season and post-season. “It is sometimes a different ballgame in the playoffs and some guys that have a good first year aren’t able to carry it over,” Leetch said. “But he seems to just be going at it the same way, where it doesn’t appear to be a different game. When the opportunities are there to get up in the play he’s there. When he has to be physical he’s certainly doing that. I don’t see it as another level up. I see it as a guy with confidence who is excited to play and can play that way.”
“He figured out early that to stay in the lineup he needed to play to his strengths — skating, puck movement, offense — and continue to learn from experience how to play defense and use his size in the NHL. I think that maturation and confidence grew throughout the season and he continued along that path in the first round. I would be surprised if it doesn’t continue.”