Dylan McIlrath has been the seventh defenseman for the New York Rangers this season, but Brady Skjei seems to have jumped him on the organizational depth chart. This past Wednesday when the Rangers and Penguins squared off for Game 1 Skjei got the call over his gritty teammate. The decision probably had more to do with the fact that New Yorks’ Captain Ryan McDonagh is injured and plays the left side, Skjei also plays the left side while McIlrath is usually deployed on the right. Still it isn’t an easy call to play a kid who has seven games of NHL experience over McIlrath who has 37.
The good news for New York is that they have another young defender whose filled with upside; and based on how he’s looked in this small sample size, it seems like a spot will be his to lose next season.
What’s Wrong With Being Confident?
“I’ve prepared for this my whole career. Im confident in myself. I’m ready.” – Brady Skjei, expected to be in the lineup tonight. #NYR-PIT
— JOHN GIANNONE (@jaygeemsg) April 13, 2016
When watching Skjei play, he has such poise, even in Game 1 against the Penguins it would be reasonable to expect a rookie to be somewhat fidgety on the ice, but the 22-year-old American never lost his composure, and continued to be physical posting five hits in the contest. By the end of the game he had logged 17:08 of ice-time with a zero plus/minus, and a shot on goal which is all anyone could ask out of a rookie in their first playoff game against a white-hot Penguins team.
Growing The Future
Skjei was drafted by the Rangers 28th overall in 2012, and he’s been working closely with Jeff Beukeboom to develop his game to an NHL level. The skating has always been there but now he seems to have more confidence with the puck, accompanied by a more physical style. The Rangers have a history of getting young players playoff experience (J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider) and it’s worked well for them. It doesn’t mean that the team will be keeping him in once the core of the defense is healthy, but it does show that the organization has some faith in the player by deciding to go with him rather than a more experienced defender like Chris Summers who’s currently with their AHL affiliate.
Some fans wanted to see McIlrath suit up on Wednesday, but I think that Rangers made the right call by playing another lefty. If they were to play McIlrath, that would mean that Dan Boyle or Kevin Klein would have to play out of their regular spots, and right now there’s a struggle to handle the usual responsibilities. Another aspect to consider is the fact that the Rangers typically play Skjei 17:44 per game while they only give McIlrath 14:07.
I thought that Skjei was reliable in his end, plus he was able to show off his great skating at times. As soon as McDonagh can go Skjei will be back to being a healthy scratch, but right now he’s showing this team that he can play against the best. If the young defender keeps this up, he may be able to push a Rangers’ vet out of a spot.
Below is a small profile of Skjei from his draft year.