PROSPECT UPDATE: Graves Scores Hat Trick ; Skjei Hurt Again

Ryan Graves' surprising offensive outburst this season is highlighted by his first career QMJHL hat trick.

A few weeks ago I noted that Ryan Graves had a pretty unique night when he scored twice against the Gatineau Olympiques. The defensive defenseman isn't exactly a noted goal scorer and it was the first time in his QMJHL career that he had scored twice in the same game.

Graves upped the ante last night. Playing against the Rimouski Oceanic, the QMJHL's winningest team, Graves scored three goals and earned the First Star in a 7-3 win for the Quebec Remparts. Even more impressive is that the first two goals were against Philippe Desrosiers, a second-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2013 and who is a highly regarded goaltending prospect. Here are the goals.

Graves Breaks His Stick, Scores Anyway

Can't remember the last time I've seen a player break his stick on a shot and still put it top shelf at 500 mph, but here we are. Graves is a ridiculously strong guy, and you won't find better evidence of that than this. Bonus points for the celebration.

Goal Number Two

Hard to tell if it hit a body in front or not. In any case, while that's hardly the most convincing shot of Graves' career, it's characteristic of his ability to get pucks on net. Not everything has to be a blast. A low shot like that to the opposite side is perfect for generating deflections and rebounds. And, once in a while, going in.

Power Play Goal for the Hat Trick

It's Graves' first hat-trick in the QMJHL, and in fact he had not scored one at any level since he played Bantam hockey (u15 level). He now has seven goals on the year in only 17 games, which is unfathomable considering that he came into this season with 10 goals in the previous 195 games of his QMJHL career. Drafted purely as a defensive defenseman, his seven goals plus eight assists gives him 15 points in 17 games. In fact, Graves ranks fourth among all QMJHL defensemen in points-per-game.

How sustainable is this? It's hard to tell. I don't think Graves is ever going to be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut, but his 12% shooting percentage is not some sort of ungodly, albatross figure by junior hockey standards. He's averaging 3.41 shots-per-game, which is definitely an increase over the 2.55 he generated last year with Val-d'Or. Also helping is that fact that he is getting power play time with the Remparts. When reached via text, Graves acknowledged his efforts to improve his production.

"I have worked a lot on improving my shot so I've just been using it more," he said.

Still, Graves won't be disillusioned by this offensive outburst and knows his role on the ice.

"I always try to improve to round out my game but I know offense won't be my game," he said.

Graves still has to make big strides to make it to the NHL level. Should he get there - and if so it will be as a shutdown defenseman - I don't think some offensive production is out of the question. While putting up these point totals might be the result of a hot streak, his shot in itself isn't. He can absolutely blast pucks from the point, and that's something the Rangers have lacked for a long time. His defensive ability is what's going to make or break him, but the ability to smash home a few goals on the power play wouldn't hurt his cause, either.

On the other end of the spectrum for Rangers' defensive prospects is Brady Skjei, who has been shelved for the second time this season with what is being classified as an "upper-body injury." Nathan Wells over at SBN College Hockey has specifics. The main takeaway, however, is that he'll be out a while. He's already been ruled out for the Mariucci Classic, which takes place after New Year's. It's yet to be determined how much more time, if any, he'd miss beyond that. The one silver lining here is that Minnesota are off for the next few weeks. If there was a time to get hurt, then this is it. There shouldn't be any long-term concerns with Skjei here and it doesn't hurt his stock as a prospect in any way, but it has to frustrating for him to go through.

The Hartford Wolf Pack were defeated 2-0 at home last night while playing the Syracuse Crunch. Mackenzie Skapski, returning from a minor injury, was solid and stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced; the goals coming on a breakaway and a power play.

Oscar Lindberg was probably Hartford's best forward, recording six shots. In fact, I'm disappointed that the Rangers did not recall Lindberg while Brassard was out with the mumps. Lindberg has finally, in my opinion, taken his game to that next level in Hartford and has earned a look in the NHL. He's second on the team in goals and points, and is finally starting to engage in the play all over the ice whereas at times in the past he's been a bit timid. With Miller playing well on the wing, it surely would have made sense to keep him there and bring Lindberg in for a couple games to fill in. Brassard's now healthy, which is obviously a good thing, but it's an opportunity missed for Lindberg and who knows when the next chance might arise.

Someone who has not been up to par is Mat Bodie. Offensively, Bodie has only one goal and one assist in his last 14 games. The Rangers will want to see much better production from a player whose value is based on his ability to provide offense from the point. Stats can be deceiving, and players go through hot and cold streaks all the time. That would be more forgiveable if his play in the defensive zone was thriving.

It's not.

In this instance, Skapski bailed out Bodie's mistake. But Bodie makes turnovers and generally poor decisions with the puck in his own end habitually. That's not totally unexpected, as playing in the AHL is a much bigger challenge than playing against ECAC competition with Union College. The pace is much faster and the players are stronger. That's something Bodie is struggling to adapt to. It won't matter if/when his offensive production increases so long as he is making errors like these in his own end.

Some final notes:

- Brandon Halverson stopped all six shots he faced in 29:43 of playing time as the US defeated Boston University 5-2 in a tune-up match for the World Junior Championship.

- Ryan Mantha scored his second goal of the season Thursday in an 8-7 overtime win against the Owen Sound Attack.

- Jason Missiaen posted back-to-back shutouts in Greenville's games on Wednesday and Friday respectively. Michael St. Croix scored in Wednesday's 3-0 win, while Josh Nicholls tallied two assists.

- Anthony Duclair played on Canada's top line in their warmup game against Russia last night. Though he didn't record any points, his line with Sam Reinhart and Max Domi were by far the most noticeable of any trio in the game.