Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei skates past Buffalo Sabres left wing Benoit Pouliot on March 24, 2018, at Madison Square Garden..


Hartnett: Rangers Need Skjei To Step Up

Sean Hartnett
December 07, 2018 - 1:40 pm

The Rangers will finally return to game action on Saturday night in Florida after a five-day break. You’d be wrong to call these “days off” because head coach David Quinn has been putting his men through intensive, hour-plus practices.

Quinn has been using these grueling sessions to raise his team’s competitiveness and to work on key details. The 13-12-3 Blueshirts own a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games. Through the season’s first 28 contests, the Rangers are separated from the second Wild Card spot by three points.

The Rangers aren’t going to be a playoff team without a contributing version of Brady Skjei. The promising 24-year-old blue liner was expected to continue taking forward strides – but his season has been full of missteps.

Skjei has been a healthy scratch for three games this season, and was held out of last Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg despite another Ranger defenseman not being at full health. That defenseman suited up in place of Skjei.

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Through 25 appearances this season, Skjei has recorded two goals and six assists. It’s not unusual for a dependable defenseman to run into a funk. Rough spells tend to occur at some point in every player’s career.

Quinn isn’t panicking. He and the Rangers are hoping that Skjei can work his way out of his struggles sooner rather than later.

“This is a guy that we have a lot of faith in,” Quinn said following the loss to Winnipeg. “He’s a really good player that’s having a little bit of a struggle. He’s going to get right back in there and we’re going to get this right. He’s going to be a big part of what we’ve got going on – now and the future. It’s not a punishment, it’s more of a take a deep breath and let’s get back at it.”

Fresh from the break, Saturday’s game at BB&T Center will offer Skjei a clean slate. We all know that Skjei has the ability to be the Blueshirts’ most valuable defenseman. He showed flashes of playing like a young Ryan McDonagh during his 2016-17 rookie season, and has performed at a high standard under playoff pressure. He’s clearly a better player than his recent performances suggest.

Oddly, the Rangers have fared better than many experts predicted thus far this season without Skjei playing anything close to the top of his game. The Blueshirts are right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.

Whether or not Skjei can rekindle his best play could determine whether the Rangers separate themselves from the pack or slide down the standings. They need no. 76 to get it together and be a major contributor once again.

Follow Sean on Twitter – @HartnettHockey