New York Rangers: The ideal defensive partner for Brady Skjei

ST. PAUL, MN - FEBRUARY 13: New York Rangers Defenceman Brady Skjei (76) skates with the puck during a NHL game between the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers on February 13, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. The Wild defeated the Rangers 3-2.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - FEBRUARY 13: New York Rangers Defenceman Brady Skjei (76) skates with the puck during a NHL game between the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers on February 13, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. The Wild defeated the Rangers 3-2.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

With a brand new six year deal, Brady Skjei is set to be a New York Ranger for the duration of the rebuild. With a new coach, we don’t know who he might play alongside, but we’ll take a look at who would suit him the best as a partner.

Brady Skjei is entering his third NHL season as the de facto number one left defenseman for the New York Rangers. He’s held that position ever since Ryan McDonagh’s departure. Given his injuries and play prior to the trade, Skjei usurped McDonagh on the depth chart a tad before then even.

On the surface, this increased responsibility was tough on Skjei who only tallied four goals and 25 points overall in 82 games. This doesn’t factor in the chaos that surrounded the Rangers season, with Skjei getting caught up in much of it.

With the signing of his new six year, $31.5 million ($5.25 million AAV) contract, the organization is banking on Skjei to be more of the player he was in his rookie year. If they can get that 40-point player night in and night out, it will be money well spent.

Taking a look at the team’s left shot defensemen, he is undoubtedly the best although the jury is still out on whether he can be a true top-two defenseman in this league.

Regardless, we’ll take a look at the best candidates to accompany him on the team’s first defensive pairing.

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Kevin Shattenkirk

Shattenkirk seems like the most obvious answer. Similar to Skjei, he is the team’s top right shot defenseman, putting him on the first pair almost by default.

Thanks to some wonderful work by Tom Urtz Jr. and Shayna Goldman of Blueshirt Banter using data from, we can take a look at who Skjei played the most with last season and how the pairing fared.

He played the most with Shattenkirk, after the newly acquired free agent spent almost no time next to McDonagh. Together the pairing played 459.03 minutes 5 on 5 together and their results were not inspiring: A 46.14 Corsi -0.24 Relative CF (Rel CF)%, 44.74 goals for percentage (GF%), -6.96 Relative goals for percentage (Rel GF%) and 44.06 expected goals for percentage (xGF%), -6.21 relative expected goals for % (Rel xGF%).

As a caveat, keep in mind that Shattenkirk was playing injured and at much less than full capacity from the onset of the season. He tried to play through it until he was shut down.

However, both Shattenkirk and Skjei appear poised for bounceback seasons under David Quinn. Shattenkirk is immensely familiar with Quinn since his time at Boston University and in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Quinn was also behind the bench at the 2016 IIHF World Championships when Skjei suited up for Team USA.

Quinn has had the luxury of and likes to give his offensive-minded defensemen the green light to stick to their strengths and make plays. Whether that’s leading the rush or stepping into the play in the offensive zone, Quinn will let his players make and execute those types of reads.

Both suit Skjei and Shattenkirk particularly well, so putting them together seems like a natural step. Ideally, Skjei is smart and responsible enough to cover for the more offensively-minded Shattenkirk while also being able to make a play himself when the opportunity arises.

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Brendan Smith

The lefty-lefty pairing of Skjei and Smith had instant chemistry when constructed after the 2017 trade deadline. However, the offseason and beginning of the season from hell for Smith found him banished to the AHL.

From the article mentioned above, Smith and Skjei spent 107.87 minutes of 5 on 5 icetime together, less than a quarter of his time spent with Shattenkirk. The pair’s results were about just as unflattering. Like Shattenkirk, Smith is also looking for redemption from last season.

By all accounts, Smith has taken the wakeup call that was served to him last season to heart and has focused on his conditioning this summer. They are counting that Smith can return to the player the Rangers thought they were getting when they signed him to his new contract in the 2017 offseason. If they are reunited, the hope here is that the pair recaptures its lightning in a bottle play from the 2017 playoffs.

It remains to be seen how strictly Quinn will adhere to a left-shot, right-shot balance on his defensive pairings. Alain Vigneault rigidly adhered to this rule until he suddenly did not. I think that Quinn will simply play the players who work together the best instead of forcing lefty, righty pairings.

For your consideration. Brady Skjei belongs on the second defensive pair. light

Other potentials

Just going down the right-shot defensemen depth chart, the next two after Shattenkirk are Neal Pionk and Anthony DeAngelo. Both flashed examples of their potential when forced into unexpected roles last season.

As more offensively minded defensemen, like Shattenkirk, Skjei can complement them quite effectively. Both played limited minutes with Skjei (like Smith): at 5 on 5, Skjei played 118.57 minutes with Pionk and only 61.07 minutes with DeAngelo.

His numbers with Pionk were bad to abysmal while they were all over the board with DeAngelo. But again, these were both small samples sizes with little context apart from the state of play and partner.

I do not think that pairing either of them with Skjei is ideal however. This is simply due to the fact that I do not think either can handle the top competition defensively, at this point in time.

There is also the possibility of Skjei playing with another lefty, Staal, who is the greybeard of the defense. He has the salary and experience to put him with Skjei (147.85 minutes of 5 on 5 TOI together last season), and his stay at home style would enable Skjei to contribute offensively. But, his level of play has fallen off so much that he should not sniff the top pairing (or even the second). This is even after seeing that he was one of Skjei’s most effective partners last season.

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I think that Quinn will rely on existing chemistry and familiarity both between the players themselves and between himself and the players. Therefore I think that Skjei should and is most likely to end up paired with Shattenkirk (or to a lesser extent Smith), at least to start the season.