Brayden McNabb maintained a low profile this season and rarely saw his name trending on social media, which is a good sign for the Golden Knights defenseman.
“Sometimes it’s good not to be noticed in my position, in my game,” he said. “I want to keep it simple.”
McNabb’s role as a steady, stay-at-home defenseman for the Knights keeps him largely anonymous, unless he makes a glaring error or finishes a crunching check.
But the 27-year-old found the spotlight for another reason this week after his goal against Los Angeles in Game 4 on Tuesday made him the fourth player in NHL history to score a series-clinching goal against the team he played for in the previous season.
McNabb also will have a prominent role in the Western Conference semifinals when the Knights meet San Jose in a best-of-seven series.
“Brayden’s a solid guy, a great defender for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He played against the top lines a lot this season for us and did a really good job. Again, he scores the odd clutch goal for us.
“We always talk about our team, everybody being a big part of our team offensively and defensively, and I think he’s been a perfect example of that.”
McNabb, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract extension in late November, was the only player in the league during the regular season to record at least 170 hits and blocked shots.
He finished sixth in the league with 176 blocked shots in 76 games, and his 225 hits ranked No. 12 in the league. Current teammate Ryan Reaves was ninth overall with 236 hits in 79 games with the Knights and Pittsburgh.
“I always thought, ‘Take body first’ because I’m a bigger guy and I’m known for hitting,” McNabb said. “(Assistant coach Ryan McGill) really kind of calmed that down and just said, ‘You can block pucks with your stick. You’ve got one of the best sticks in the league. If you get stick on puck, you can transition with it and break up a lot of plays.’
“I focused on that. I think it’s definitely helped. I’m not the fastest skater, but my stick definitely makes up for it.”
The 6-foot-4-inch, 212-pound McNabb formed a successful odd-couple partnership on the blue line with Nate Schmidt for the final four months after Schmidt’s usual partner, Luca Sbisa, was injured Dec. 12 against Carolina.
McNabb’s toughness and grit provide the ideal complement to Schmidt’s speed and offensive instincts.
“Steady Eddie. He’s definitely been a calming factor for me out there,” Schmidt said. “All year, he’s been almost methodical in the way he plays. You know what you’re going to get out of him every night, and it makes my job a lot easier, knowing what I’m going to get from him every night. He’s been fantastic.”
McNabb and Schmidt often are matched up against opposing team’s top forwards, and the duo helped limit the Kings’ No. 1 line to two goals in the four games.
Gallant likely will use them as the shutdown pair in the series against San Jose’s top line of center Joe Pavelski and wings Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi.
“It’s a different challenge, and it’s going to be a tough one,” McNabb said. “But we’re going to over our game plan and stick with what we’ve been doing.”