It should come as no surprise that the Rangers again dipped into the ever-improving talent pool of American-born prospects to make their first-round selection. With the 28th pick in the draft, Gordie Clark announced the selection of defenseman Brady Skjei, a Minnesota native out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, from which the Blueshirts selected J.T. Miller a year ago.
Beyond his American ties, defenseman Brady Skjei possesses one trait that New York’s scouting staff covets – tremendous skating ability. Effortless skating is one thing, but it’s all the more impressive when it’s attached to a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. It’s basically unheard of for a player that size to have the speed and fluidity of Skjei and that gives him a pretty sizable advantage over many other prospects. However, outside of his size and skating, Skjei’s tools are raw.
In his own zone, Skjei consistently makes good decisions and is sound positionally. Though Skjei is willing to finish his checks, he isn’t overly physical and lacks the mean streak that many would like to see from a defenseman his size.
Skjei registered 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) in 60 games this season, but at this point his offensive game is nothing to write home about. Still, he is a decent passer and is effective in the transition game.
Skjei, who looks just like Ryan McDonagh, will play for the hockey factory that is the University of Minnesota next year and will surely be brought along slowly. Because of his skating ability and decision to go the college route, Skjei has already drawn comparisons to McDonagh, but that may not be fair.
Skjei shouldn’t be expected to turn into a power play quarterback or a shutdown guy. He’s more likely to be a tremendous supporting defenseman, a #3 or #4 that can guide the puck to safety with ease and is responsible in his own end.
Skjei certainly wasn’t a sexy pick, but he has a solid future ahead of him and Clark and the Rangers’ scouting staff have proven that they know what they’re doing.
Adding Skjei to a defensive prospect stable that also includes 2010 first-round pick Dylan McIlrath and 2009 first-rounder Tim Erixon gives the Rangers a lot of flexibility. As has been frequently discussed, the Blueshirts will likely have to give up either Erixon or Michael Del Zotto if they want to pry Rick Nash from Columbus or Bobby Ryan from Anaheim.
Click here to read Dave’s pre-draft report on Skjei.
Here are some other scouting reports on Skjei:
HockeyProspect.com’s NHL Draft Black Book
Brady is a player who can get caught out of position from time to time, but has the speed to close in on the rush very quickly when he’s behind. Clearly the most impressive part of Brady’s game is his skating ability. At just a hair under 6’3”, he is able to ﬂy up and down the ice and uses this ability in both directions. He can rush the puck up the ice very smoothly and will usually either pass the puck off or get it deep before getting inside the offensive zone. Brady doesn’t appear to be the kind of player that gets caught too deep in the offensive zone very often and always seems to have his own zone in the back of his mind, even when his team is on the attack. While he has a big frame and finishes his checks, Brady doesn’t possess much of a mean streak. This is something we’d like to see him develop as he prepares to be an NHL caliber defenseman. While there are minor concerns about the use of his size and positioning, Brady is a pretty complete defenseman who skates very well at 6’3”. Brady is scheduled to go to the University of Minnesota in the fall. This will give him an opportunity to test his size against bigger, stronger opponents.
Jess Rubenstein (23rd in Blueshirt Bulletin’s mock draft)
Strengths: Huge 6’3 body who is a pretty smooth skater and quite agile for a big man, excellent passer who can run a power-play, and is pretty solid in his own zone
Weaknesses – Need to become mentally tougher as he will suffer the occasional mental lapse, could use some improvement on his reaction time/decision-making process
Kyle Woodlief, Red Line Report
Strong shutdown defender with fine skating ability and decent puck skills. Makes crisp breakouts and can also skate the puck out of danger. He has grown much bigger and stronger over the past year.
TSN.ca (Ranked 22nd)
Brady is a player who has is very difficult to play against because he has size and weight and is an excellent skater in all regards. He is powerful and with excellent balance, he is able to use his body and keep opponents from gaining an advantage. His agility is very good and he is able to handle 1-1 situations versus speed and quickness effectively and he’s also able to move ahead with the puck and escape pressure. He reads the play very well without the puck and with the confidence he has in his skating, he can stop plays before a rush has fully unfolded. His defensive positioning is sound and he doesn’t create unnecessary problems for himself. He is a good passer and gets the puck moving from his own zone quickly and efficiently and is very effective transition player. He’s not going to punish opponents but he’s going to frustrate them because it’s no easy task to get around him and gain the upper hand. A good, strong, steady type player who has a strong dependability and consistency in his play.
Corey Pronman, Puck Prospectus (Ranked #37)
Skjei is quite an intriguing prospect to scout, as while average across the board aside from his size and skating, it’s the latter that is clearly visible every time he plays and generates his value. Skjei is a well above-average to elite skater who moves as well as you’ll find in a 6’3″ player. I’ve seen instances where forwards would get two or three steps behind him and with a few side steps he would catch up to them. His first step is pretty explosive and makes him very dangerous on the rush as he regularly will take the puck out of his own end and bring it up through the opponent’s blue line with ease. Skjei’s puck skills are solid for a big man, but compared to a wide talent pool they’re pretty average. The same can be said for his puck-moving skills as well which is why despite that one high-end ability, I don’t think he has a significant offensive ceiling. In his own end, he uses his mobility well to stay with his checks, but doesn’t use his large frame as much as he could and seems a bit timid at times. Whoever drafts him will be betting on the tremendous physical tools and hoping something else in his game takes a jump forward along the way to really propel his value.
Chris Peters, United States of Hockey
When you get past the fact that Skjei is a 6-3, 200-pound defenseman, which obviously is attractive on its own, you begin to see the breadth of his talent. For a player at his size, mobility is almost an added bonus. When you consider some scouts are calling Skjei the best skater in the draft, it’s enough to make a few teams in the latter half of the first round drool at their good fortune.
Skjei’s standout tool is obviously his skating. It’s not just speed, it’s the ability to use his feet efficiently with good edge work and an explosive first step. He doesn’t have overwhelming puck skills, but he certainly makes up for it with his feet. He knows how to pursue and protect the puck and uses his physical tools pretty well.
It figures that Skjei has an uncle that is a skating coach, because I don’t know that I’ve seen a player come into a draft as technically sound as this guy on his feet.
While his offensive upside is questionable, it’s a part of his game that has shown marked improvement and could eventually round out enough to him being more of a two-way guy.
Defensively, he is pretty sound. He makes really great decisions and as long as he keeps his game simple defensively, he becomes really tough to beat. Again, a lot of that has to do with his feet.
Skjei is going to have a lot of room to skate next year at Minnesota on the Olympic ice, which should help make him an instant impact player in college. He’s going to be an exciting talent to watch as his game continues to round out.
The Hockey News (Ranked 26th)
Skjei isn’t the best defenseman in this year’s draft, but he is close. And he’s undoubtedly the best skater among blueliners available. “It looks like poetry watching this guy skate,” said one scout. “He’s effortless and massive which makes him attractive. He sometimes makes some shaky decisions, but his skating ability for his size is frightening.” Although his numbers with the U.S. under-18 team didn’t reflect it, Skjei has decent offensive ability, a trait he’ll likely display more next season at the University of Minnesota. He already has size, though scouts would like to see him use it more to his advantage when it comes to playing a physical game. He has improved in that department, but it’s clear that will never be a dominant part of his game. “When somebody gets him at the next level and tells him, ‘Just be simple and go with your skating stride,’ he’ll be a real effective NHLer,” said another scout.