Last summer, I took a look at what should be expected out of Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei as the trio of players were preparing for their second full NHL seasons. Between Skjei’s sub-par first half of 2016-17 and dominant second half, I came to the following conclusion about him:
If Skjei can reprise his play from the second half of last season, then New York’s defense corps should emerge as one of the league’s upper echelon groups. Expecting Skjei’s point production (1.41 5-on-5 Points/60, 4th most among defenseman) to remain the same is a bit of a stretch, so even if he fails to eclipse 40 points after scoring 39 last season, it shouldn’t be used as a major detraction against him. However, if Skjei regresses and plays like he did throughout the first half of 16-17, then the Rangers will be in trouble.......Brady Skjei will look to solidify himself on the left side of New York’s second pairing for years to come.
Boxcar Stats: 82 GP (+2), 4 G (-1), 21 A (-13), 39 PIM (-3), 6 Powerplay Points (-1), 153 SOG (+26) 21:02 TOI/GP (+3:34) -1 Penalty Differential (+6)
“Analytical” Metrics: 0.55 P/60 (-0.81), +1.02 Relative CF% (-1.87), -10.14 Relative GF% (-15.64), +2.33 Relative xGF% (+1.34) 97.51 On-Ice PDO (-5.24), -0.36 Goals Above Replacement (-1.40)
So let’s digest all of that: Skjei’s even strength point production fell off a cliff, which is to be expected to a degree given how poor the roster around him was. He was on the ice for a lot more goals than last year, but again, Skjei was one of New York’s only healthy, NHL-caliber defenseman throughout the season, so there’s only so much he can do. He took a lot more shots on goal, and contrary to the narrative that Alain Vigneault was detrimental to young players’ development, was third on the team in time on ice behind Ryan McDonagh and Neal Pionk. With McDonagh’s departure, Skjei appears to have every opportunity to step into his shoes and emerge as the next anchor on the left side of the team’s depth chart.
Aside from the precipitous drop in scoring, Skjei helped drive play away from the Rangers’ end of the ice throughout the season. If there’s any positive to take away from Skjei’s performance this season, it’s that he was more or less the same capable player throughout all 82 games, rather than the inconsistent rookie who may as well have been two completely different players from September-December of 2016 and January-May of 2017.
Aside from Skjei and Marc Staal, the Blueshirts’ didn’t really have a “regular” group of seven defenseman throughout the season. Between injuries, trades, and organizational circumstances, they were the only two defenseman on the ice for New York throughout the season. Of the Rangers’ defensemen who finished and spent a majority of season on Broadway, Skjei was the leader in relative Corsi and Expected Goals. That’s a low bar to clear, but it’s one positive to take from an otherwise lost season.
The highlight of Skjei’s season arguably came off the ice, where Chance The Rapper goofed on hockey and Skjei’s jersey made a cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live:
In a contract year, Skjei could have stepped into the void created by McDonagh’s departure and emerged as a fixture on New York’s blue line for years to come. He also could have reversed the progress he made in the second half of 16-17 and put his long term future with the Rangers in doubt. Skjei didn’t really do either of those things. His performance over the last two seasons puts him in line to be on the receiving end of a bridge deal this summer, and both Skjei and Rangers’ management have reason to be satisfied with that outcome.
By and large, the Rangers were an absolute mess in every sense of the word this season, especially after the trade deadline. New York’s blue line was particularly fluid, as the 12 defenseman that skated 200+ minutes at 5 on 5 is the most the Rangers have used since at least the 2000-01 season, which is as far back as the site I used went for TOI statistics. While he wasn’t a game-breaking talent every time he hopped over the boards, the Rangers were usually better with Skjei on the ice than with him on the bench. As one of the team’s veteran blueliners now, the Rangers will need him to be that and more if they want to be playing hockey this time next year.
Final Grade: B-
When I sit down for a test and it’s a subject I’m not particularly good or bad at, a B- is satisfactory. I’m not clamoring to sign Skjei to a long term deal and stick him on the team’s top pair after his performance, but he also wasn’t so terrible that I’m scared of a bridge deal or even qualifying him, like I am with someone like Ryan Spooner. It’s hard to be genuinely excited about Skjei going into the offseason, but it’s also hard to be worried about him going forward based on the last two seasons. For being wholly average, (in a year where plenty of players either weren’t or were traded) a B- is appropriate.
How could he have been better?: The most obvious thing here is point production. Skjei dropped from 4th in 5-on-5 P/60 and t-10th in P1/60 among qualifying defenseman to t-159th and t-166th. Not being among the NHL’s elite was expected, but Skjei scored like a 3rd pairing defenseman this season. He also had the biggest drop in relative goals for% among Rangers who played each of the last two seasons, but part of that is his comically low PDO that should correct itself over time.
What did he do right?: The most important thing Skjei did this year was improve on his penalty differential, as he was one of only 59 out of 213 defenseman to be within one penalty of even or better, which is difficult for defenseman in particular to accomplish. As I said previously, he was also much more consistent throughout the season, with a player much closer to the 2017 version of Skjei being the one that took the ice regularly compared to the 2016 version. His shot metrics were both within a reasonable range of variance year-to-year without any tangible performance difference, so both numbers were respectable and should be expected of Skjei going forward.
How would you grade Brady Skjei’s 2017-18 campaign?
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A-, A, or A+
B-, B, or B+
C-, C, or C+
D-, D, or D+