Brady Skjei will be the young Ranger to watch throughout the 2018 season with expectations for the 23-year old Minnesota native being on the precipice of greatness after just one full season with the Blueshirts.
After spending a season with the Hartford Wolfpack in 2015-2016 and quickly positioning himself on the top defensive line there, Skjei shined in 2016-2017. He had the best rookie season for a Ranger’s draftee defenseman since Brian Leetch’s point-per game performance in the 1988-1989 season. In 2016-2017 the Rangers’ 2012 1st-round choice logged an impressive 39 points in 80 games. While not quite Brian Leetch numbers, a incredible performance none-the-less that puts Skjei’s projections for next season at extraordinary highs.
As of right now nearly all the attention is put on the the expected first-line pairing of the Rangers’ current elite defensive star, Ryan McDonagh, and the club’s latest free-agent acquisition, Kevin Shattenkirk. However, as team’s will be game-planning to figure out how to minimize the effectiveness of these two stars, Skjei will have the opportunity to rise himself and serve as an even greater stand-out.
Skjei already exhibited his incredible skating ability — one that is on par with that of McDonagh — and his impressive poise with the puck throughout last season and showed an impressive ability to step-up during the playoffs as well. His comfort on the ice is striking for a rookie and a huge part of that is McDonagh’s leadership role.
Skjei and McDonagh have been working-out together throughout the offseason in their home-state of Minnesota, and are also both getting involved in DaBeauty League — a recently started summer hockey league in Minnesota that brings together various Minnesota-native NHL and professional players in organized play.
The young lefty will help ease the burden the McDonagh was under on the back-end as the stand-alone star D-man for the Rangers. The opportunity for Skjei to play with Shattenkirk on the powerplay will help him see a sizeable increase in scoring chances and the opportunity to create a deadlier powerplay. Skjei’s expected defensive partner Brendan Smith will offer a reliable veteran presence along-side him.
Going into his contract year, Skjei’s performance in this season will help Gorton and company to determine exactly where they project his NHL career path will be going. However, with the current team around him and the impressive performance he already displayed in 2016, there’s no reason to expect he won’t be a cornerstone player for the Blueshirts for years to come.