With the college hockey season upon us, it’s not just the juniors and the AHL season that is giving Rangers fans reason to watch hockey. Brady Skjei made his debut for Minnesota in an exhibition game last Saturday, a game that drew over 7,000 spectators. It sounded like a promising first appearance for Skjei who played a physical game even if his passing was inconsistent.
While he is considered a two-way prospect Skjei appears in a fight for powerplay time as he wasn’t part of either PP unit during the commanding 7-0 victory over University of Lethbridge. Of course, as a rookie Skjei will have to earn the right to powerplay time and ice time in general.
With the lack of organisational depth the Rangers have on the blueline – in part because of injury, in part because of roster moves – many eyes will be on Skjei this season to see how he copes with the fight for ice time in Minnesota. As Minnesota led the WCHA in goal scoring last season there figures to be plenty of opportunity for Skjei to improve his offensive game. If Skjei can develop that aspect of his game quickly, opportunities at the pro level could be expedited given the Rangers lack of pure offensive blueliners beyond Michael Del Zotto. While Skjei doesn’t project to be an offensive first kind of player he has room to develop that aspect of his game.
Tuesday night sees another Ranger prospect come to the fore as ‘Boo’ Nieves takes to the ice with the Michigan Wolverines. An intriguing prospect with size and offensive upside and like Carl Hagelin before him, Nieves should benefit from playing in a strong programme at Michigan led by long time head coach Red Berenson. The Wolverines play an exhibition game Tuesday before playing their regular season opener against RIT on Thursday.
Skjei and Nieves are both important prospects for the Rangers just in different ways. Skjei could possibly fill a void in the organisation if he develops well while Nieves has a unique blend of size and skill and given the usual college timetable, could develop to the pro level at an important time for the Rangers.
Assuming Nieves takes 2-3 seasons before being a legitimate candidate for the Rangers, several current Rangers may have been moved on or come to a period in their careers where contract issues force the clubs hand. Having a prospect like Nieves ready for pro hockey would be a cheaper and effective option to replenish the roster, in some ways like Derek Stepan was when he made his mark.