Before the 2016-2017 season, New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei was simply known as a talented prospect who had a chance at making the team. Now, he’s one of the most recognizable faces at Madison Square Garden. How did he get there?
Coming into the 2016-2017 season, there was a lot to look forward to for New York Rangers fans. The season marked some well-known players entering “veteran territory”, like J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider. It also promised some talented new faces in players like Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei.
Although it’s hard to imagine the Rangers without him now, Skjei wasn’t necessarily expected to be a “star” coming into the season. Some other younger players were expected to break out this year, including Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Skjei was not usually mentioned in that group.
Before His Rookie Year
While some would say that his potential was obvious, it was not certain that Brady would even crack the NHL roster. He played seven games in the 2015-2016 regular season, scattered between December and April.
Even though he showed promise, Skjei did not notch his first NHL point until that year’s playoffs. He played in all five games of New York’s playoff run, ending the series with two points, both assists. When the time came for the 2016-17 season to start, Skjei was ready to show he belonged in the NHL.
What Happened Last Season?
Skjei wasn’t expected to be the “star” out of this year’s rookie class, but his first season in the NHL proved differently. He ended the season with a total of 39 points on five goals and 34 assists in 80 games. The season left many calling Skjei an impact player, known for his speed and skill on the blueline.
If that wasn’t enough, what’s a rookie season without breaking a record? Brady Skjei became the fourth rookie defenseman in team history to put up 30 assists. He joined Brian Leetch (1988-1989,) Reijo Ruotsalainen (1981-1982,) and Ron Greschner (1974-1975.)
In addition, he was the third Rangers defenseman in the past 30 years to record at least 25 assists. The other players that reached this milestone were Leetch, as well as Michael Del Zotto (2009-2010.) As compelling and history-making Skjei’s year was on the ice, that wasn’t the only reason why fans fell in love with him so quickly.
Personality Off The Ice
In late November 2016, the rookie blue-liner joined the “Boys in Blueshirts” video series on the team website. Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Carl Hagelin originally made up the squad. After the Rangers traded Brassard and Hagelin, the team released a new video in the series with Kevin Hayes and Keith Yandle. Upon Yandle’s departure, the crew consisted of Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey, and Adam Clendening.
Skjei was one of the more talkative members of the group. He referred to Clendening as “Clendo” and teased Vesey for “being really good at talking in front of the camera.” As the season went on, Skjei participated in a handful of normal interviews. The team also featured him in a few more unusual, “fun” videos.
In March, the team released another installment of “Boys in Blueshirts” where Skjei and Vesey gave a tour of their apartment. The guys talk about their need for a hamper and garbage can and try to figure out how old items in their fridge are. Clips like these make it easy for fans to see the more “human” side of Skjei, which isn’t always so simple.
Beyond His Gameplay
Skjei’s sense of humor is evident in encounters outside of The Garden. He participated in the 2017 “Blueshirts Off Our Backs” ceremony, a post-game event held at the end of the final regular season home game every year. Each player takes their game-worn jersey off of their back, signs it, and hands it to a fan.
The team chose a young girl named Isabella, a part of the Junior Rangers youth hockey program, to receive Skjei’s jersey at the event this past year. Skjei was friendly to his young fan, asking her what her name was and smiling the whole time. It’s not hard to see that the young defenseman loves interacting with fans.
Additionally, many fans love to see players “mic’d up” while on the ice. Skjei participated in this a few times, most notably during youth hockey camp over the summer of 2016. He talks to young players about things like Pokémon and their favorite Rangers. Skjei has a lot of fun with it, laughing as he asks and answers questions with the kids.
Brady Skjei has turned into one of the most transparent, “real” players on the New York Rangers, through his actions on and off the ice. He has become the apple of the Big Apple’s eye in just one season. As we head into the 2017-18 season, the only question left is what will the phenom defenseman do next?