Skjei Emerging As Leader on Rangers Blue Line

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

It’s not often a sophomore player is looked upon as a leader.

But that’s exactly the situation Brady Skjei is in.

The Rangers’ 2012 first-round draft pick has played under the burden of high expectations for most of his life. But he loves the added responsibilities.

And his performance has drawn plenty of attention.

“He’s grown into more of a leadership role,” said ace NY Times reporter, Allan Kreda. “He’s like a younger version of Ryan McDonagh. Their styles and skating are so similar. Plus, they’re both lefties.”

But how did Brady Skjei “The Leader” come to be?

“My uncle was the skate coach for the Arizona Coyotes,” recalled Skjei. “I started skating with him when I was around two years old.”

While you may think skating at two years old is very early, just remember, Skjei’s blue line compatriot, John Gilmour was very late to the skating game; not lacing them up until he was six.

[Read: Getting to Know John Gilmour]

From there, the Lakeville, Minnesota native remembers watching his cousins play high school hockey.

“I used to go watch my cousins play all the time,” said Brady. “We’d go to the school or wherever and cheer for them.”

Once he grew up, it became Skjei’s turn to play the game.

“I played for the University of Minnesota,” said Brady. “I was mainly a shutdown defenseman and played a lot on the penalty-kill. I loved every minute of it.”

“We made it to the National Championship game when I was a sophomore,” continued Skjei. “It was a great experience.”

Dave Maloney sits down with Minnesota native Brady Skjei, who reveals how it was to grow up in a hockey state, his journey to the NHL, and living with some fellow Blueshirts.

After his collegiate career ended, Brady was drafted by the Rangers; eventually making his NHL debut at the end of the 2015-16 regular season.

However, his official rookie year was the 2016-17 campaign and things have changed quite a bit since then.

A 39-point (five goals, 34 assists) rookie year saw him draw comparisons to another Blueshirts’ defenseman, Ryan McDonagh.

The former-Rangers captain grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota; roughly 30 miles from where Skjei was raised.

“Brady learned quite a bit from McDonagh over the last two years,” said MSG Networks Play-by-Play Announcer, Sam Rosen. “There’s a lot of similarities between the two. They both have similar skill sets, skating ability and offensive minds. And they work out together in the offseason.”

In Ryan’s first full season (2011-12) he put up 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists). Then, following his age-24 campaign (2013-14), he was named team captain.

For Skjei, many believe he’s on the same path.

Even though he’s struggled some this season, Brady still feels like he’s grown as a player and he looks forward to continuing to develop.

“This year has been a bit of a struggle,” said the 24-year-old Skjei. “Pucks that were going in last year, aren’t this year. Been a little snake-bitten.”

“Last year, I was playing mainly against third and fourth lines,” continued Brady. “This year, I’ve been mainly facing top lines. It’s an adjustment. I just have to keep getting stronger and add to my offense, defense and all-around game.”

That’s a very mature response from a young player and it’s that maturity that’s opened a lot of eyes.

“His maturity is off the charts,” said Rosen. “He’s really learned a lot from the guys around him; especially Dan Girardi last year and, of course, Mac (Ryan McDonagh) for the last two.”

“The expectations were he would excel at age-24,” said Kreda. “Just like McDonagh did. He’s in prime position to be a leader.”

Even without an “A” or “C” stitched on his jersey, Brady is still leading the way for the young defensemen.

“I went from the young guy in the room to a veteran almost overnight,” said Skjei. “It’s crazy how things work out.”

[Watch Rangers-Devils Tuesday on MSG2 & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.