Perhaps lost amid the excellent World Junior campaign played by Team USA are the struggles of Brady Skjei in his freshman year with Minnesota in the WCHA. Skjei has just two points, which both came in one game way back in October, and has been outplayed by fellow freshman Mike Reilly who – unlike Skjei – made the US world junior team that’s earned rave reviews in Russia. Of course, there’s no reason to panic for Skjei, Rangers fans or team brass this early in his development.
Skjei is learning the hard way on a strong hockey program. He’s been on the third pair (recently with Nate Schmidt) and won’t have seen significant ice time. The Rangers don’t need to worry however as Skjei wasn’t expected (or needed) to be rushed and too much can’t be expected from a first year college defenseman in most cases.
There have been positives: Skjei played well in parts earlier in the year, including during US development camps ahead of the WJC, and his solitary goal in college hockey thus far did come on the powerplay for Minnesota. He’s been praised for his skating and there’s no denying his physical presence at 6’2 and 200+ lbs. If Skjei develops physically and can improve his on ice play over the next few years then the Rangers truly could have a special defenseman on their hands.
With Chris Kreider struggling and the Connecticut Whale struggling overall some may begin to worry about the development of several prospects in the system but it’s important to remember the Rangers have time on their side with regards to the likes of Kreider (to an extent), Skjei, Dylan McIlrath and several others in the system. Several Rangers prospects developed quicker than expected such as Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan so the gap between the next wave and the current roster may be skewed in the eyes of some.
It’s worth noting that with Dylan McIlrath back on the ice, the Rangers have a solid prospect in the pro system and hopefully not far off the NHL. With Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, McDonagh and Mike Del Zotto forming one of the best defensive units in the entire league, the Rangers can afford to be patient with Brady Skjei’s development.