Don’t sleep on the Rangers’ second defensive pairing of Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. They could be just as good as the team’s top duo.
When the New York Rangers signed Kevin Shattenkirk back in July, many fans begin dreaming about what a potential Ryan McDonagh-Shattenkirk pairing would be like and how they would play together. And as well they should. McDonagh and Shattenkirk are both excellent defensemen and have the potential to form not just one of the best pairings in the Eastern Conference, but one of the best in the National Hockey League.
The Rangers quietly re-signed Brendan Smith back in June to a four-year, $17 million contract extension after the defenseman had a very good, but brief tenure with the Blueshirts last season. Smith, who was acquired back in February from the Detroit Red Wings for two future draft picks, was a much-needed piece for the Rangers, as he helped stabilize their back end on the right side.
Smith brings a lot to the table, as he is terrific at clearing the defensive zone and pushing the puck up the ice to the forwards, a must in head coach Alain Vigneault’s up-tempo system. He’s an above-average skater, is defensively responsible and is excellent at suppressing shots. In addition, his possession numbers (54.5 career CF percentage) will also help the Rangers sustain pressure in the offensive zone and continue to help a team that had 256 goals in the regular season last year. He also adds a bit of an edge to the
In addition, his possession numbers (54.5 career CF percentage) will also help the Rangers sustain pressure in the offensive zone and continue to help a team that had 256 goals in the regular season last year. He also adds a bit of an edge to the
He also adds a bit of an edge to the Rangers and is not afraid of getting physical with opposing players.
Smith’s numbers line up perfectly with a prototypical top-four defenseman, and he will get that chance this season, as he will most likely be paired with his partner late last season and into the playoffs, and that’s Brady Skjei.
Skjei will be entering his second full season in the league, and he should continue to grow after a successful one last season. Skjei put up 39 points in his first full year and made the NHL All-Rookie Team alongside Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and Matt Murray.
He showed many why he was taken in the first round back in 2012, as he has the potential to be an excellent two-way defenseman for many years to come with his great skating ability and a solid shot at the point. He was one of five regulars on the Rangers last year who was a positive possession player, as he sported a 50.6 CF percentage, demonstrating his ability to help hold the offensive zone and to keep the pressure on opposing teams.
In addition, Skjei’s proficient defensive abilities were on display. Breaking up passes and clearing the defensive zone, pushing the puck up the ice, was no problem for him.
Like Smith, Skjei’s numbers line up with typical top-four defensemen, and his shot generation will improve as he continues to grow and develop.
The two should be able to build on what started last season. They had great chemistry together, as both were able to give fits to opposing teams by choking off passes, suppressing shots and keeping the Rangers out of their own zone. In addition, their ability to transition the puck up to their forwards and create scoring chances was critical to the team during their playoff run, and the two were a combined plus-14 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers are looking for their first Stanley Cup since 1993-94. Getting their hands on Lord Stanley’s prized possession won’t be easy, as they’ll have to deal with several obstacles in their own division, such as the Washington Capitals, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who acquired sniper Artemi Panarin in the offseason, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not only are those three teams in the Metropolitan Division, but all three were in the top six in goals scored last year in the NHL (282 for the Penguins, 263 for the Capitals, and 249 for the Blue Jackets). Not to mention, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a healthy Steven Stamkos while the Toronto Maple Leafs and their young core have another year of experience under their belt.
It will be extremely competitive in the Eastern Conference this season with all of the offensive firepower that other teams have.
Because of this, it will be imperative that the Rangers have a strong defense that can limit time spent in the defensive zone and limit shots by opposing teams. The Blueshirts can say they have that, as not only do the Rangers have a strong first pairing on defense, the team can boast that they have an elite top four on defense that can do just those things.
So, while Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith may get lost in the shuffle with all of the excitement around a Ryan McDonagh–Kevin Shattenkirk pairing, the Skjei-Smith pairing can be just as effective and just as important.