Not many people expected New York Rangers rookie Brady Skjei to be an impact player on both sides of the puck so early. Skjei was that and more this season.
One can argue that there was no player more important to the New York Rangers success in 16-17 then Brady Skjei.
After a solid first season of professional hockey down in Hartford in 15-16, Skjei, who played in the team’s five playoff games that same season was expected to make the jump to an everyday role.
Skjei’s campaign started off a little slow as he struggled through the preseason because of the stomach flu. For a little bit, it seemed as though Dylan McIlrath would take Skjei’s roster spot out of camp due to his solid play coupled with his contract forcing him to go through waivers to play with Hartford.
Both former first round picks ended up making the roster but in two completely different directions.
Skjei ended up finishing behind Brian Leetch in many Rangers rookie categories for defensemen like assists (34) and points (39). Skjei finished 9th in the league in points among rookies and 5th in assists, one assist behind Zach Werenski of the Blue Jackets.
And as far as his defensive play was concerned, he was as good as advertised. Skjei has some uncanny speed that allows him to stay in every play, much like Ryan McDonagh. If anything, Skjei, who has been compared to the Rangers’ captain for a few years now, proved that he has a much higher ceiling with his offensive prowess shining through.
The Future is Bright
Come the 17-18 season, the hope is that Skjei will be reunited with unrestricted free agent Brendan Smith on a pairing. The two were nearly perfect together in the postseason, and even though they were very underutilized, they were clearly the team’s best pair in their 12 postseason matches.
The two are both very good skaters with high hockey IQ, which allows them to play off each other real well.
On a team that will almost certainly be a better puck possession unit in the seasons to come due to the hopeful revamping of the defense, Skjei will be an integral part of that environment. He had the best CF% of any Rangers defenseman that played 35 or more games this season at 50.4 at even strength. He was also the team’s best shot suppressor from the blueline, posting a CA60 of 52.28.
Overall, I don’t think you can say one bad thing about Skjei’s game this year. Alain Vigneault should have put him on the ice more frequently than he did–he played just under 15 minutes a game in the regular season. Vigneault admitted that his role will increase next year and that can be attributed to an absolutely phenomenal rookie year.