In the 2017 Postseason, Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith found a great deal of chemistry as the Rangers’ third defensive pair.
The New York Rangers made the wise decision to pick up Brendan Smith at the trade deadline. The 28-year-old added much-needed depth to the Rangers’ defense. His pairing with rookie Brady Skjei was one of the strongest in the playoffs, especially in the first round against Montreal.
Skjei and Smith are compatible because they can both skate but are able to do different things.
Skjei has a knack for reading plays and using his stick to break them up. Smith relies more on his physicality to force the puck carrier into uncomfortable positions and ultimately gain possession.
This slight difference works well for them as there are many aspects of their game that are the same. Both move the puck well in transition and through the neutral zone. They can both make plays along the boards and use their skill and size to force opponents off the puck. Finally, both are not afraid to step up on the rush but only do so when it is responsible choice.
The result in all of this is that they are more successful in exiting the zone and generating offensive opportunities.
Here is a prime example of this balance between a willingness to step up and responsibility. The work these two put in ends up with the best possible outcome: a rocket from Skjei.
The 22-year old blocks a puck off a 3-on-1 opportunity and a good stick lift from Smith allows him to step up. Skjei’s good skating and ability to move up the ice on the rush allows for a great chance, which this time ended up in net.
In an interview with Smith after he extended his contract last week, he commented on why things worked with his Skjei.
“I think we gelled because we both can skate and we both talked to each other a lot,” he said. “We helped each other in different aspects of where we wanted to be. You create that chemistry and that’s the biggest thing. I think we did that. We can only get better with the more time we’re together.”
Since the Rangers picked up free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk on July 1st, they can now solidify a top four by making Skjei and Smith their second defensive pair.
The fate of Marc Staal and Nick Holden is still up in the air, but if they remain on the roster, they certainly do not deserve to be played over Skjei and Smith.
In the playoffs, head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t give them the opportunity to prove their worth despite the great numbers they put up. Vigneault has a bad habit of not trusting young players, even ones like Skjei who have been solid and consistent in their time on the team.
They make a great pair because there is a slight difference in their play that is balanced by their similarities.
Making these two the second defensive pair, and allowing them more time on ice will make the New York Rangers a better, more competitive team in 2017-18.