The Rangers nabbed Brady Skjei from the U.S. Under-18 team with the 28th overall pick in the draft. He is heading to the University of Minnesota next season.
Scouts consider Skjei the best skater among defensemen in this year’s draft. One scout went as far to rave to “The Hockey News,” that “It looks like poetry watching this guy skate.”
Skjei has good size at 6’3″, 203-pounds, although he is not considered a dominant physical defenseman. His offensive numbers with the US National Team were not outstanding but scouts believe that those numbers will improve in college and as he gains experience.
The native of Lakeville, Minnesota was thrilled to be joining the Rangers. “I am ecstatic [The Rangers] picked me,” he said shortly after being selected. “This whole past year I have been talking about them and that it’s the best city and the organization is awesome, so this is a dream come true.”
Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark saw a lot in Skjei (pronounced “Shea”). “He was one of the top kids in the combine, and he was a horse on the ice for the U.S. Under 18 Program–moving the puck and on defense,” Clark told the Rangers official Site. “He had the big shot on the point, and he’s an elite skater. That’s what stands out.”
What was also noteworthy for the Rangers is what they DIDN’T do. Despite all the trade talk involving Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets, the Rangers did not make a deal on Friday. Nash was not traded to any team by the Blue Jackets and is presumably still on the market as the free agent period gets under way July 1st.
Meanwhile, the Islanders moved quickly to improve their blueline corps. Shortly after the draft started at 7:00 PM ET, they acquired veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2nd round draft choice in 2013.
Visnovsky is 35 and provides experience and offensive production for the Isles, two elements they were sorely lacking in 2011-12. How productive has Visnovsky been? Since 2005-06, only Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Boyle have scored more points among NHL defensemen.
Isles forward Matt Moulson played with Visnovsky in Los Angeles and thinks he will help the Isles immediately. “I think he was a very good pickup for us,” Moulson said. “He’s an extremely skilled defenseman, great on the power play, moves the puck well, skates well and he’s a great guy. It’s a little help on the offensive output on the back end.”
A few minutes after acquiring Visnovsky, the Isles chose defenseman Griffin Reinhart with the fourth overall selection in the draft. Reinhart is the son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart who played for the Flames and Canucks from 1979-1990.
Reinhart has great size at 6’4″and 207-pounds. Last year, he scored 12 goals and had 36 points in 58 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.
Scouts project Reinhart as a two-way defenseman but feel he needs to use his size to his advantage more often. They also noted how much he improved over the course of last season.
Isles GM Garth Snow was pleased to add Reinhart to the team’s blueline but will not rush the team’s newest draft choice to the NHL. “Our organization is fortunate to have already developed a formidable young core, which gives us the flexibility to allow elite prospects like Griffin to develop,” Snow said. “He is a highly skilled defenseman who has been very impressive in his first two WHL seasons. Griffin’s size and defensive instincts will be another piece to help solidify our lineup for years to come.”
The draft’s most ironic moment came with the 29th overall selection. The New Jersey Devils selected Stefan Matteau, son of former Rangers forward Stepahne Matteau who scored a game winning double OT goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994, prompting Howie Rose’s famous radio call, “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!”
Overall, both the Rangers and Islanders concentrated on adding defense on the first day of this year’s draft.