In what’s been a quiet summer, the Rangers took care of some business earlier today by re-signing defenseman Brady Skjei to a six year contract worth an average of $5.25 million per season. They decided to skip bridging him by locking up the 24-year old from Minnesota over the long-term.
His new deal will keep him on Broadway through 2024. A good skating left defenseman, Skjei now will have to go out and prove he’s worth it. Following a impressive first season in which he tallied five goals and 34 assists for 39 points in 80 games, while adding four goals and an assist in the playoffs, he struggled with consistency in his sophomore year. Playing in all 82 games, he registered four goals and 21 assists for 25 points with a disappointing minus-27 rating.
Part of that was a quicker learning curve for a young player, who was in his second full season. Skjei didn’t see as many sheltered minutes, or favorable matchups. Once the organization made the right decision to rebuild, they traded away top defenseman Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay. With Kevin Shattenkirk hurt and Marc Staal playing a secondary role at this stage of his career, Skjei was asked to play the tough minutes against opponent’s top scoring lines. That meant a higher quality of competition. That resulted in some forgettable nights for Skjei, who along with a younger rebuilding team, went through peaks and valleys in a non-playoff year.
A former 2012 first round pick selected 28th overall out of the University of Minnesota, Skjei has the size and skating ability to become a good defenseman. He is a strong skater, who can carry the puck out and lead the transition. It’s all about consistency with him entering the key part of his development. On a team devoid of talent on the blueline, he will be looked upon by new coach David Quinn to shoulder the load. Projected to be on the top pair with a healthier Shattenkirk, there’s no margin for error. He’ll have to improve from last year.
The Rangers are banking on Skjei here to be that top pair guy who can anchor the D. The jury remains out on whether he’s that type of player. It’s up to him to perform up to increased expectations. With that comes added pressure. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.
For a comparable, I thought of Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. Ironically taken in the same draft by St. Louis not until the third round (86th overall), he’s been consistent in his first three seasons by putting up 30 or more points in each year. A good skating right defenseman, who is bigger than Skjei; listed at 6-6, 230 pounds; Parayko has totaled 103 points (19-84-103) in 242 games. He also is 4-8-12 in two postseasons. Coincidentally, the Blues missed the playoffs this past season. But are primed to get back in with a strong offseason. They’re built differently than the Rangers, who probably will need a couple of years before progress is seen.
It’s worth noting that the Blues are paying Parayko an AAV of $5.5 million through 2022. A deal he signed last summer, receiving a five-year contract worth $27.5 million. He’s a year older than Skjei. The deals are similar. The only difference is Parayko has more protection due to St. Louis having top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and veteran Jay Bouwmeester.
Another comparable is Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Selected eighth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, the offensive minded Finn has already produced three straight seasons of over 40 points. The right D is extremely talented. Offense should continue to improve with the big addition of 2018 number one overall pick Rasmus Dahlin. It’s Ristolainen’s defense which must improve. In four seasons, he’s a minus-87. Part of that is due to how bad Buffalo has been. That’s about to change.
Ristolainen is making similar money to both Skjei and Parayko. He is signed through 2022 with an AAV of $5.4 million. It’ll be interesting to follow these three young blueliners in the coming years. We’ll have a better idea of how Skjei stacks up.
The Rangers are taking a calculated risk here. They’re willing to invest long-term in Skjei, who still has much to prove. Now, it’s up to him. We’ll see if he can deliver on the new contract.