Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei began the 2023-2024 campaign by setting a franchise record, becoming the first blue liner to record six points through the team’s first four contests.
In those four games, Carolina earned a 3-1 record, including two wins on the road. But, as a team that suffered from injuries a season ago, they were all too familiar with what happened next.
Sebastian Aho, Freddie Andersen, and Brett Pesce each missed time on the Hurricanes’ west coast road trip, all while Andrei Svechnikov had yet to return from ACL surgery.
The latter in Pesce served as Skjei’s partner in the second defensive pairing. After suffering a lower-body injury and finishing an Oct. 19th contest against the Seattle Kraken, Pesce has been sidelined and was placed on injured reserve.
He has missed the last eight contests, forcing Skjei to play alongside one of Jalen Chatfield or Tony DeAngelo. Chatfield has been solid while next to Skjei, but it is Skjei’s production and consistent play that has stood out over the season’s first month.
Through 13 games, Skjei leads all of Carolina’s defensemen with 10 points, just two off of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who sits first among all skaters on the roster with 12.
Over the last 10 games, eight of which being without Pesce, Skjei paces the blue liners with six points, including five assists.
He ranks in the top 10 in the league in both assists by defensemen and in +/- for blue liners at +7. His rating of +7 leads Carolina’s roster.
After scoring a career-high 18 goals last season, which ranked third in the league among defensemen, it appears the 29-year old is looking to continue his hot stretch in a Hurricanes sweater.
With 10 points, he is on pace to shatter his career-high of 39, and while he is unlikely to reach the 63 points he is currently projected for, his uptick in production has helped offset some mistakes by the Carolina defense.
Skjei provides stable play on both ends of the ice, and he displayed that in Tuesday night’s overtime win against Buffalo. He amassed his second two point night of the season, scoring the then go-ahead goal in the third period and tallying an assist on Martin Necas’ game-winner.
Not only has he aided Carolina at 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill, but also during their four overtime contests, as evidenced by his point in the extra session on Tuesday. It marked his second consecutive game with an overtime point, as he also recorded an assist on Sebastian Aho’s game-winning score in New York on Saturday.
Even with his contributions in the 3-on-3 format, he still credits Aho and Necas for their success after regulation.
“I’m just out there setting picks for them and just trying to get out of their way,” said Skjei. “They’re a huge threat on 3-on-3 with that much ice and that much time.”
Part of that success and coming through when it matters most is about patience and trusting the process.
“We never get too high or too low on the bench. Everyone says that, but it’s true,” said Skjei following Tuesday’s win. “Other teams are a little more antsy, but ours is pretty even keel, so I feel that helps in a long season. We know we’re going to get our chances and our breaks will come.”
Even without a big presence on the power play, Skjei has continued to find ways to help Carolina. Throw in working with multiple defenders on the second pairing and his ability to steady the Hurricanes’ blue line becomes even more impressive.
His performance, whether a coincidence or actual correlation, coincides with Carolina’s success. Skjei has tallied just one point over their five losses, which came in their Oct. 15 defeat to Anaheim.
His other nine points have come in winning efforts, including a game-winning goal in the season opener against Ottawa.
Skjei has registered 335 shifts on the season, good for second on the roster and just five behind Brent Burns.
In a contract season, Skjei has impressed and helped steady a blue line that has seen its pairings change even on a nightly basis.
The return of Brett Pesce, who recently shed the yellow non-contact sweater at practice, is sure to elevate the play of Skjei, which will continue to help power one of the best blue lines in the NHL.