The New York Rangers have signed 2013 6th round pick Mackenzie Skapski to an Entry-Level Contract, according to… Mackenzie Skapski.
Skapski, who turns 20 in June, came with virtually no fanfare when the Rangers scooped him up at the 2013 Entry Draft, but has since put himself very much on the radar. After a shaky start to the season which included many inconsistent performances and a leg injury that shelved him for a couple of weeks, Skapski was mostly lights out the rest of the way. Playing behind arguably the worst defense in the Western Hockey League in Kootenay, Skapski finished the season with a 2.70 Goals Against Average and a .916 Save Percentage; two points higher than top goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry’s .914 Save Percentage despite playing on a significantly inferior team. In truth, The Kootenay Ice, finishing sixth in their conference and advancing into the second round of the WHL playoffs, probably overachieved this season, and Skapski was as big of a reason for that as anyone. Things got a bit bumpy for him in the playoffs, but altogether it was an eye-opening season for a guy who was largely an afterthought in junior hockey a year before.
As for the kind of player Skapski is, I do not pretend to be a goaltending guru. That being said, here is what I have come to notice. His best asset is his head and fundamentals. He is athletic for sure, but it’s his understanding of the position that allows him to read angles well and set himself quickly. He’s very good at utilizing his large frame to cover the net and give shooters a very difficult time finding twine to shoot at. This is evident in the fact that his shootout statistics are as good as any you’re going to find in juniors. You won’t find him out of position often. He’s got a very sharp glove hand and can make some spectacular saves. Mentally, he’s similar to Henrik Lundqvist in that he’s passionate about his job and overly analytical about every little thing to the point that it’s borderline psychotic.
As for areas of improvement, like any young goaltender pretty much everything can be improved upon. Specifically, he could use some work in detecting shots through traffic. It seemed to me that this is how many teams, who realized that he doesn’t make many mistakes on shots he can see, successfully exploited him at times. To a large extent a better team in front of him would have mitigated that, but it’s still something I envision Rangers’ goaltending coach Benoit Allaire will focus on.
Skapski is eligible to return to the WHL for an overage season but I’ll be absolutely stunned if he’s not playing pro hockey next fall. Whether that’s in the ECHL with Greenville or the AHL with Hartford remains to be seen. In any case, the Rangers have specified that they see Skapski as an “A+ Prospect.” He’s a goaltender that Allaire likes a lot and, in 2-4 years, could push himself into the NHL level depending on the state of the Rangers’ goaltending at the time.
Here’s an interview I did with him back in the Fall. Below is a highlight video of arguably his best game of the season against the Prince George Cougars.
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