Defensively efficient prospects unfairly take the backseat to the skilled offensive guys. A three-point game and a nice move in the shootout makes for a good highlight video whereas a couple good pokechecks and neutral zone interceptions do not. It’s easy to look at a statsheet and see that a player had two goals, and therefore surely did something right. But there’s little in the way of stats (at least, readily available at lower levels) that will show the performance of a player defensively. As such, the skilled, offensive guys get their names “out there” more often.
But here’s your chance, Brady Skjei! The 2012 New York Rangers First-Round Pick has played the shutdown defenseman role all season long for the top-ranked Minnesota Gophers; a team stacked with offensive prowess. Skjei does have some offense in him though, and he turned some heads this past weekend in back-to-back games against Boo Nieves and Michigan, scoring three of the team’s five total goals. Skjei’s first goal came in a 3-2 overtime win for the Gophers as they clinched the Big Ten Conference. The second game was an embarrassing 6-2 loss for the Gophers, but Skjei was one of the few – if not only – Minnesota standouts. Skjei scored both of the two tallies, and here they are.
As I alluded to before, what can’t be shown in a 90 second clip is the all-around effort from Skjei, which was phenomenal in both games. With tons of top talent and NHL-drafted players on both benches, Skjei stood out from the pack. He skated as well as anybody. He displayed his tremendous hockey IQ by making all the right decisions with the puck in his own end and covering the right players and areas on defense. Skjei has been this kind of player for Minnesota the whole season, but he really turned it up another notch against a solid Michigan team. I hesitate to use the word “steal,” and that hesitance is accentuated by the fact that Skjei hasn’t played so much as an AHL game yet. I will say that I think the Rangers got tremendous value out of the 28th overall pick in 2012. He’s a sophomore playing like an upperclassman and, while I think he will go back to Minnesota for his junior season, there is no doubt in my mind that he could suit up for the Wolf Pack next Fall and fit right in.
Keep reading for some other updates, including updates on Anthony Duclair.
There was some hope that Anthony Duclair, still recovering from concussion-like symptoms, would be able to participate in the Quebec Remparts’ final two games of the regular season this past weekend. It was not to be. Thus, Duclair agonizingly finishes the season with “only” 99 points. That was still enough to be named a finalist, along with Lighting prospect Jonathan Drouin and Red Wings prospect Anthony Mantha, for the QMJHL’s MVP award. Duclair is probably going to finish third in the voting but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Drouin and Mantha are two of the four or five best prospects in the world not already in the NHL. That Duclair has put himself in their class speaks measures about his development this past season. The Remparts begin their playoff campaign on Friday night and, while both Duclair and the Rangers are staying quiet on his status, there are whispers that he could be in the lineup for Game One.
Pavel Buchnevich’s season is over… except it isn’t. Severstal Cherepovets failed to make the KHL playoffs. However, the KHL also has a tournament for non-playoff teams in which they compete for the “Nadezhda Cup.” How long before Charles Wang tries to bring this concept to the NHL? Anyway, Buchnevich has played in two of Severstal’s four games and scored one goal. Severstal have also sent Buchnevich down to their junior club, who are in a legitimate playoff race, to play some games there. Think of it as sending players to the AHL.
Adam Tambellini finished his WHL regular season by scoring a goal and adding three assists over the final three games. Two of those games were against fellow 2013 draftee Mackenzie Skapski, and the two will now face each other in a Calgary-Kootenay first-round playoff matchup. Tambellini’s Hitmen are the higher seed and certainly have the better all-around team. However, projected 1st overall pick of the 2014 draft Sam Reinhart is far and away the best player on either team and Skapski has the ability to steal a series. On a separate note, though Skapski is eligible to play at the pro level next season, the Rangers hold his rights through 2015 and could instead have him play an overage season in the WHL. I have no idea what the Rangers’ plan is for Skapski right now and whether they’ll sign him prior to next season, but I did hear from someone directly involved that the Rangers are “very high” on Skapski and that, while nothing is set in stone, it appears to be “when” and not “if” the former 6th round pick is signed.
Ryan Graves finished the season with five goals and 22 points in 65 games; respectable numbers for an 18-year-old defensive defenseman. Earlier today I published an interview I conducted with him and it contains all sorts of information on him and his season. Check that out here. Graves and Val-d’Or begin their first round matchup against Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Thursday.
Cristoval “Boo” Nieves finished the regular season with 21 points in 33 games, including 11 in his last nine games. Nieves’ Michigan Wolverines are barely clinging to a Frozen Four bid and will need a solid showing in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament to maintain their slot.
Notre Dame’s Steve Fogarty finished his sophomore regular season with 11 points in 31 games, including four assists in his last five games. Like Nieves, Fogarty had a rough start to the season but picked up his play in the second half. Blueshirt Banter and SBN College Hockey’s Evan Sporer, who specializes in Big East hockey and watched Notre Dame’s most recent games, agrees with my assessment that Fogarty is a better player than raw statistics will show. Sporer notes that Fogarty’s game, theoretically, “translates well” at the pro level and he believes Fogarty will drastically improve his production next season as an upperclassman.
Troy Donnay finished the OHL regular season with 2 goals and 17 assists in 66 games with the Erie Otters. OHL seeding isn’t 100 percent determined yet but Erie will be ranked very high and is arguably the favorite to win the CHL’s Memorial Cup.
The Hartford Wolf Pack last played on Sunday and lost to the Providence Bruins 3-2 in overtime. I didn’t watch any of the game and therefore can’t give any insight, but Jesper Fast did score his 13th goal of the season. Here’s the box score for that game. The Wolf Pack play the Islanders’ affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, tonight.
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