Imagine for a moment that you had a baby last night. Now imagine telling everyone you knew that the baby would be able to walk by the time it was three months old.
Now imagine the baby is three months old and, predictably, it can’t walk. Would you look at the baby, call it a disappointment and then send it back to the womb? (I sort of lost that metaphor as it went, but there’s no baby AHL so I don’t know what you want me to tell you. You agreed to deal with this by coming to the site, so this is really all your fault). No, of course you wouldn’t.
There is no doubting that Brady Skjei is going to be a quality defenseman in the NHL. There is no doubting that he’s one of the biggest reasons to be excited about the team’s defense — a topic which doesn’t have too many positive vibes surrounding it.
There’s also no doubting that he’s going to struggle. Since we’re making promises, I can also tell you that he’s never going to reach the expectations set for him by this coaching staff.
Hockey and youth are a funny thing. Often, players need a year or two at the NHL level to truly blossom into what they are. That’s in addition to time spent simmering in juniors or even the AHL.
When players aren’t scoring 50 a year as a rookie or shutting down top-line players every shift they’re labeled as busts. Kevin Hayes had a 45-point rookie year where he was one of the top primary point drivers in the entire league and that still wasn’t good enough to keep the “underwhelming” label off of him.
Skjei is poised for a similar treatment, only it’s far easier to pinpoint a struggling defenseman since they’re getting scored against directly.
I called this earlier in the summer, calling Skjei the biggest loser of the Keith Yandle disaster. Here was my analysis there:
It’s hard to accurately articulate in this article just how excited I am by the doors Skjei’s talent will allow him to open, while also admitting reaching Yandle’s level of offense is more than likely not one of them. Skjei is a player with an unreal set of wheels and skating ability (not the same thing), a second-nature ability to know when to join the rush and the talent to take care of his own end. He’s a young player bursting at the seams with potential and talent and yet, I’d be shocked if he ever reached the 50-point plateau. Does that make sense? I feel like it does so I’m moving on.
Throw in the fact that Yandle was actually, you know, really good at defense and this is something of a problem.
The Rangers made a lot of bets this summer. They bet that Dan Girardi and Marc Staal would bounce back (Staal kinda has), that the forward group is going to be better (it should be, but until we have a final roster we won’t know) and that the team is going to be just as good despite not fixing their biggest problems.
They also made an enormous bet that Skjei would be ready for top-four duties right away this year. And, to this point, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Some fans expected Skjei to be Ryan McDonagh right away. It’s fair to assume Jeff Gorton and company did not think that way, but they obviously thought enough of him to throw his name around when talking about replacements for Yandle and Dan Boyle.
For as promising as Skjei was in the playoffs last year (small sample size alert!!!) some of his promise may have been by comparison. The Rangers were awful, his possession numbers weren’t very good and the glimpses we saw overshadowed the mistakes because deep down we knew the Rangers were dead men walking. In the preseason his errors and lapses in judgement have been magnified because of the enormous expectations heaped on him before year began.
Now, the answer isn’t to throw Skjei back to Hartford. Sometimes players grip their sticks tight and need to relax into improvement. There should be bumps in the road when it comes to a 22-year-old defenseman about to leap into a relatively complicated defensive system.
Rookies need to work through those issues at this level if they’re worth their salt as NHL players. That’s not to say some players wouldn’t benefit from time in the AHL to season, but Skjei isn’t one of them. Neither are guys like Jimmy Vesey or Pavel Buchnevich.
You have to be willing to take the good with the bad when it comes to the three of them. Just because the Rangers banked on Skjei to be a top-four guy right away doesn’t mean him not hitting that bar equates to him not being as good as people thought he would be. Making assumptions based off hype, what you hear and five playoff games isn’t the most accurate thing to do. But people still do it. Over and over and over again.
The Rangers made their own bed with the defense. We can (and have) talk about that for hours on end. That Skjei is being dragged into this is unfortunate, and not a good thing if it impacts his development, or worse, causes the Rangers to make poorly educated decisions for his development (i.e: sending him down).
Concerns surround the defense, rightfully so. Skjei should never have been one of them.
And he wouldn’t have been, until the team inadvertently put him on the list.