The New York Rangers rebuild era was unexpectedly short-lived. Now, a stacked roster of up-and-comers, along with a star forward in Artemi Panarin put a lot of eyes on the Rangers. With all that talent, the pressure is mounting for all players, especially those remaining from the original squad. One of the players with the most pressure on his shoulders is defenseman Brady Skjei.
Pressure Mounts for New York Rangers Brady Skjei
Brady Skjei started strongly with the Rangers, adding strength to the blue line during the 2015-16 post-season. With two assists in five games, Skjei made himself known, despite the short playoff-run. The fanbase got excited about the future of the Rangers blue line. Skjei’s freshman season was full of promise, earning five goals and 34 assists. His two-way game was a huge bonus for the team, adding additionally offence and guaranteed defensive prowess.
Skjei’s deft stick-handling and hockey sense also showed in his ability to track the play and recover from mistakes quickly. His first NHL goal displayed his great vision on ice and powerful shot. In a mess of ageing and hurting defensemen, such as Kevin Klein and Marc Staal, Skjei was the answer to the Rangers prayers. He even placed 10th in the running for the coveted Calder Trophy.
However, Skjei’s sophomore season left much to be desired. He only tallied 21 assists – a significant decline from his previous season. Falling victim to an ever-shifting blue line didn’t help Skjei’s case. The heightened expectations and increase in minutes clearly took a toll on his confidence. The loss of his mentor, Ryan McDonagh in the spring of 2018 also shook Skjei. He’d no longer have the day-to-day support of his summer work out partner and leadership of the fallen captain. Skjei couldn’t hold the Rangers defence up on his own and it showed. The Rangers, however, continued to see potential in the Minnesota alum and signed him to a hefty six-year contract.
Weathering the Rebuild
To begin the 2018-19 season, Skjei was now a youthful leader on the Rangers. Many of his previous Blueshirt teammates had been traded away, making way for new blood like Neal Pionk and Ryan Strome, who replaced Ryan Spooner soon after the season began. Skjei was not immune to the many changes occurring on-ice and off. His performance still fell short of his first year’s. In 2018-19, he proved to be most effective on the second or third pair, playing under 18 minutes. This is a far cry from the expectation the coaches and the fans likely had for him. With only 17 assists, Skjei’s playmaking continued to take a hit, showing a lack of confidence. He played it too safe all season, something the Rangers simply can’t afford.
New Kid No More
Entering his fourth full year with the Rangers, Skjei can no longer hide behind the “new kid” excuse. There are many more new faces looking to redesign what it means to be a New York Ranger. These include studs such as Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. There’s no question that those two players will be doing everything they can to make their mark in Manhattan. This only adds to the pressure on Skjei who will need to take more risks with the puck, accepting the expected responsibility for a player of his tenure.
Projections are currently placing him on the second pairing with Kevin Shattenkirk, Staal and Trouba on the first pairing. Skjei will have to lead by example in this case as Shattenkirk is arguably in a worse position. Shattenkirk has never lived up to his potential on Broadway, despite the splash his signing was in the summer of 2017. Skjei will have to get comfortable while trusting his own speed and talent to make the unexpected shot. He’ll also need to capitalize on his physical presence, one of his most valuable traits. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing 214 pounds, Skjei can go toe-to-toe with some of the biggest blue liners. Using his body to force the puck to the corner allows him to force the play outside and protect the net.
Skjei’s responsibility to the Rangers can absolutely be fulfilled, as long as his trusts himself. There’s no question that coach David Quinn wants him to succeed. After all, Skjei’s career is still young on a team that’s becoming more and more of a Stanley Cup contender each day.
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