When asked to describe his style of play to someone who has never seen him on the ice, the first two words U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Brady Skjei uses are "smooth skating."
It's no surprise that Skjei (pronounced shay) is considered among the best skaters in the 2012 NHL Draft when you look at his family background.
Skjei's uncle is Barry Karn, a skating coach who has worked for the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames.
had four goals and 18 assists in 56 games with the USNTP. (Photo: Tom Sorensen)
"I've skated with him since I was 4 or 5 years old," Skjei told NHL.com. "He's helped me a ton in my development."
That development took another big jump in 2011-12. He had four goals and 18 assists in 56 games with the USNTP, and a tournament-high plus-10 rating in helping the United States win the gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
That performance, plus all the attributes the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blueliner brings to the rink, earned him the No. 19 spot among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking for the 2012 NHL Draft, to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"His game has improved greatly, both offensively and defensively," USNTDP coach Danton Cole said. "He's a tremendous skater and a good example of a guy who understands the little nuances of playing defense. He's thrived in the [USNTDP] program and is a physical specimen; he's big and strong and has made great strides in learning how to play the game. His angling is good and he has put himself in a really good position moving forward in his career."
One of the major reasons he's gotten to that point has been his skating.
"Usually I'll go into interviews and they [scouts] will compliment me on my skating," Skjei said. "It's definitely a big part of the game and I think I'm an elite skater."
He's worked diligently on reaching that level with his uncle. Over the years, Skjei has drilled deep into the mechanics of skating to hone his stride and footwork.
"I work with my uncle in the summer," Skjei said. "I kind of learned off him and all his science, all his edges and all his edgework he does. I learned a bunch of stuff off him. There's a science to the skating stride and I think I've learned a bit about it. It's all about balance. It's all about being on the center part of the blade, and staying on that flat part of the blade as much as you can. It's all balance and staying over your skates."
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Another benefit to having an uncle with NHL connections has been being able to skate and train in the summer with NHL players.
"It's awesome," he said. "We skate, and I take stuff off them. I feel like I can skate with them. We play small games after and playing with them has been an unbelievable experience."
Not only has it given Skjei the confidence he can hang with the pros, it's shown him where he still needs to improve.
"I think I still need to tune up my offensive game," he said. "And also being a more physical player. I've got the tools to it, I'm big. Every level I move up I need to be more physical. I don't think that'll be a problem for me."
With his size, adding an extra physical bent to his game shouldn't be a problem. It's just getting into the correct mindset where he allows his nastier side to emerge.
"I've got a little fuse in me where I kind of want to hit guys," he said. "It comes naturally. I like to use my skating to my advantage, angle guys off. I feel like I can skate with almost anybody out there so I just use my skating to my advantage."
He'll continue to use his strong skating at his next stop, the University of Minnesota. He'll follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who played football at the school.
"Every Minnesota kid wants to be a Gopher growing up," he said. "With the coaching staff they have, going in there I can really learn off them and improve my game."
In a draft overflowing with top-end defensemen (including Skjei's USNTDP teammate, Jacob Trouba) it's easy to get overlooked. However, Skjei's coach doesn't think he'll last too long in the first round.
"I don't see that happening," Cole said. "He's just played too well and he's been seen too much. I'd be shocked if he dropped in the draft."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK