There’s going to be a pretty significant fallout from the Keith Yandle trade that saw the Rangers regain a guaranteed 6th round draft pick and a condition 4th round draft pick from the Florida Panthers.
The fallout will be far-reaching on the team level; making the Rangers worse on both offense and defense while removing one of the few defenseman who can actually make Alain Vigneault’s system work the way it’s supposed to.
Outside of what it cost to get Yandle, how the Rangers misused him, what they ended up being able to scrape off the floor for him once they tanked his value and what it will cost to effectively (or ineffective) replace him; there’s another hurt party in the Yandle move.
His name is Brady Skjei.
The Rangers also have prospect Brady Skjei, who is close to being NHL ready. Skjei, like Yandle, is a left-handed puck-moving defenseman, but he's 21 and on an entry-level contract.
"You need good players that are coming that don't make a lot of money," Gorton said. "Brady looks on the cusp of being an NHL player. I think that will help our decision."
The reaction from most logical fans was a lot of eye squinting, head shaking and maybe even a stiff drink. Skjei help their decision on Yandle? How, if other than the team looking at him as an actual replacement.
It continued after Yandle was moved when Brett Cyrgalis wrote this in his analysis on Yandle being moved (emphasis mine):
So this is the first stone to fall in what is shaping up to be an offseason for the Rangers full of overhaul. It might have been made easier to watch Yandle leave with the emergence of 22-year-old Brady Skjei, who has shown the ability to be a top-four defenseman on the left side for a long time.
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.
Comments like the one Gorton made — more than likely in an offhand manner — are dangerous. They’re especially dangerous when it comes to young prospects who most fans haven’t really seen, and thus are nurturing opinions based on whatever small morsels of information they can gather from around the Internet.
Case and point: The roughly 1,400 tweets and e-mails I got telling me the Rangers could afford to let Yandle go because Skjei was a cheaper (and in some instances better!) replacement.
It simply isn’t true, at least not on offense.
Skjei looked amazing in the playoffs, don’t get me wrong. As much as he was sheltered, he did see a ton of penalty kill time, some power play time and as the Rangers’ coaching staff saw the season siphoning down the drain they gave him some critical crunch time minutes. He looked exciting, was maybe the Rangers best player overall in a few games and made you think the team might actually have something worth being giddy about.
That giddy nature has to be logical, though. Skjei has never been a dominant point-producer at any level of “professional” hockey (I’m including his time with Minnesota here). The closest Skjei has come, actually, was last year in the AHL when he recorded 28 points in 68 games. That’s not going to suddenly translate to 50+ NHL points in his first full season on Broadway.
Had the Rangers kept Yandle they would have been able to ease Skjei into a more offensive role. I, (potentially very) optimistically see Skjei’s ability to jump into the rush and use his speed translating into a 40-point player at the highest end of his talent. Will he get there? Maybe, but I see it as a possibility (even if it’s a slim one). That’s a best case scenario, though, and not one that should be banked on right away.
With Yandle the Rangers could afford to be patient with Skjei’s growth. In his cup of tea with the big club in the playoffs Skjei was partnered with Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein (in that order of time spent). With Boyle Skjei made a speedy target, who could jump into the rush and allow Boyle to set on the blue line to create offense. When Skjei did play with Yandle (very limited minutes) the two did this a lot and it was awesome.
Which brings us back to the point I really want to make here: Skjei is not a Yandle replacement offensively.
Yandle averaged just 2:36 worth of power play time a game (easily the lowest of his full-season career in the NHL), which was good for third overall on the team and tops among defenseman. With that time on the man advantage, he recorded a team-high 22 points.
If you’re really expecting Skjei to be a Yandle replacement offensively you need to give him all those power play minutes if not more, and put him in extremely offensive minutes. The latter shouldn’t be an issue, but the former more than likely will be. Add in the fact that as of right now the entire defense is a tire fire, and there’s a ton of reasons to support Skjei being anywhere near a Yandle replacement.
There’s another danger to this, too. If the Rangers talk up Skjei as a replacement, and speak about how high their hopes are for him, they’re essentially poisoning the water. When Skjei doesn’t live up to the standards they’ve set — for the love of God not even Yandle himself lived up to Yandle’s own shadow to the media! — the fans and media will turn on him and crate a toxic environment. Old-school, hard-nosed defensemen get protected at all costs in the papers, and Skjei simply doesn’t fit that mold.
As he crumbles under the unreal expectations people will talk about how he’s “not ready,” “needs more seasoning,” “needs to be gritter,” or how the Rangers should “sell high.” It’s a cycle that never ends. Yandle had the best season from a defenseman since Brian Leetch and you’d have to physically sift through the printed ink to find nice things written about him. If you exclusively followed a select member or two of the media, you’d think Yandle was actually Girardi.
Skjei may very well turn into a very good defenseman. He has a rare ability to join the rush and get back in time if things don’t work out. There’s something special brewing in him, and if the Rangers utilize/nurture him properly they might see him at his full potential.
No matter what, though, Brady Skjei is not Keith Yandle.
Asking him to be is wrong.
Expecting him to be is worse.