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Skjei eyes playoffs after Rangers add Panarin, Kakko, Trouba

Defenseman 'really excited for future of New York'

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Brady Skjei can barely contain his enthusiasm when discussing the future of the New York Rangers following the additions of forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko and defenseman Jacob Trouba.

"How can you not be excited," the 25-year-old defenseman said Wednesday at Da Beauty League, a weekly set of 3-on-3 games that feature NHL players with ties to Minnesota.

"Obviously getting a guy like Panarin is huge, where he'll add to our offense and [Kakko], too. That's pretty fun to be on the ice with."

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons during a stated rebuild, the Rangers upgraded their roster this offseason, adding Panarin, Kaako and Trouba to a maturing group of talented young players.

Panarin, who has 320 points (116 goals, 204 assists) in 322 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks, agreed to a seven-year contract with the Rangers on July 1. The 27-year-old had an NHL career-high 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games with the Blue Jackets last season.

"His offensive instincts are so impressive," Skjei said of Panarin. "He can see the ice so well. He scores some highlight-reel goals. As a defenseman, a guy that can jump in the play and the rush, I think the puck will be on my stick a lot more with him around as I try and get involved in the offense."

Video: NYR@PIT: Skjei pots wrister on rush to tie game

The Rangers selected Kakko No. 2 in the 2019 NHL Draft and he agreed to terms on an entry-level contract July 11. The 18-year-old had 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists) in 45 games with TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, last season. His 22 goals were the most by a player 18 or younger in league history, one more than Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov scored for Tappara in 53 games in 2012-13.

Trouba was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in a trade for defenseman Neal Pionk and the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 17. The 25-year-old had an NHL career-high 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) in 82 games with the Jets last season.

Of the three recent additions, Skjei is the most familiar with Trouba; they were teammates for two seasons with USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, beginning in 2010-11.

"He's a do-it-all defenseman," Skjei said. "He can play on the power play, can definitely kill penalties and plays a bunch of minutes. He's been the same player since he was a junior in high school. Very consistent, a very reliable defenseman and he can help us right away for sure."

Video: Busy Rangers offseason started with May acquisitions

The Rangers made positive strides last season, though they finished 20 points behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. This season, Skjei has high hopes the Rangers will get back into the playoff picture.

"I think we have full trust with the group we got right now," he said. "On paper we've got key people and key players that should help us get to that next level. Personally, I think we're going to be right there come playoff time.

"I'm really excited for the future of New York."

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