The New New York Rangers made significant changes on the blueline with the plan that an improved defense would help record more wins this year. What they have now are just mediocre play and more questions than answers. Can Brady Skjei save the day?
Kevin Klein retired at the end of last season. The New York Rangers bought out long time defenseman Dan Girardi (who then went on to play with Tampa Bay). The team then re-signed Brendan Smith and made the biggest splash in the free agency market signing Kevin Shattenkirk.
So why are the Rangers struggling so much on the back end again this year.?
Rangers defensemen are having difficulties on the ice. Poor decisions and frequent turnovers have been costing the team goals against throughout this season.
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Defenseman Anthony DeAngelo was sent down to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack early in the season because of these issues and if it was possible more defenseman would have been sent down to the minors due to poor play on the ice. Kevin Shattenkirk, two goals, eight assists, with a minus -4 this season, has looked lost several times this year. Brendan Smith has not been close to the player he was when the Rangers traded for him at the deadline last season. Brady Skjei has been very quiet on the offensive side of the ice, probably because the coaching staff has him concentrating on defense first. Captain Ryan McDonagh has had five different partners this season and the continued indecision of who to play him with has cost him and the team on the scoresheet.
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Nick Holden and Steven Kampfer have been in and out of the lineup with neither being able to take a stronghold for a permanent lineup spot. Marc Staal has been one of the most steadfast defensemen on the team. Ironic in that when the season began, most believed Staal wouldn’t be able to hold a spot on the third defensive pair. Seems the defense, improved on paper, is still struggling as it had last season.
Though most in the organization would not want to admit it, the Dan Girardi buyout has cost the team more than it bargained for. As the warrior for the Rangers defense, Girardi was a reliable player for the team and that reliability seems to be missing now. With Girardi gone, the Rangers need to find a new workhorse in the stable. Do they even have one?
I believe they do and if the coaches let him off his leash, he can be the player he is capable of. Brady Skjei can be the dominant player the team desperately needs.
Skjei enjoyed an impressive playoff last year, one in which he compiled four goals with one assist and was a plus-six in 12 playoff games. His main asset is his speed and puck control, the things the Rangers are looking for in a strong defenseman. Someone needs to take charge of the team and with McDonagh’s inability to be a dominant player on a consistent basis, Brady Skjei can get the job done.
This will be Skjei’s second full season with the Rangers. The 23-year-old defenseman can handle the workload and knows what is expected of him on a nightly basis. He should be the player the team is building around for the future and the team should be able to rely on him to play significant minutes every night. Skjei can be the next warrior of this Rangers team. The coaching staff needs to show the confidence in him and in return Skjei can show the team what he can do to help win hockey games.
Alain Vigneault needs to start trusting Skjei more when he is on the ice. With Skjei leading the way, without limits or restrictions, the Rangers will have a great opportunity to turn this season around.