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Skjei eager for chance to crack Rangers defense corps

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- New York Rangers prospect Brady Skjei knows it won't be easy to crack the opening-night roster out of training camp.

That doesn't mean the 21-year-old defenseman won't put his best foot forward in an attempt to realize his dream much sooner than later.

"Every guy coming into camp has the main goal of making the team and it'll be a challenge for sure but I'm going day by day," Skjei said. "If it happens, it happens and if not, I'll go to [the American Hockey League in Hartford] and work on my game there and see what happens."

Skjei (6-foot-3, 206 pounds), who signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on April 1 to forego his final season of eligibility at the University of Minnesota, is manning the blue line for New York at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this week at Centre Ice Arena. The tournament marks the first time he has worn the Rangers jersey in a competitive setting.

Hartford Wolfpack coach Ken Gernander got a good glimpse of Skjei at the end of last season after his junior year at Minnesota. He had no points in eight AHL regular-season games but had a goal and three points in 15 playoff games.

"When you watch him play, the most noticeable thing is the way he skates and can get up in the play, so we're looking forward to getting to work with him," Gernander said. "I try not to forecast if and when a player will play in the NHL because it's not fair to the kid, the organization or those players also in the mix. Everyone has to work as hard as they can and let things play out in training camp."

Skjei believes the Rangers already have a solid top six along the blue line in captain Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein. It's not too far-fetched to think Skjei could earn a role as the spare defenseman, a spot that could also be reserved for Raphael Diaz.

"The Rangers have been a fun team to watch the past few years," Skjei said. "It all starts with their defense corps; it's rock solid. They're up there with the best in the League for sure. I'll be able to learn a lot at camp."

Skjei said he needs to focus on perfecting his shot from the point and handling the puck.

"The AHL is a tough league for sure; it's more physical than college hockey, and guys are smarter and can make plays that guys in college wouldn't be able to make," Skjei said. "You have to be smart."

Skjei, chosen by the Rangers in the first round (No. 28) of the 2012 NHL Draft, had eight goals and 27 points in 109 career games at Minnesota. In a 5-2 loss to Minnesota Wild prospects Friday, Skjei had a chance to play against 22-year-old defenseman Mike Reilly, his college teammate who is in line for a possible job opportunity this season with the Wild.

"Brady has really grown a lot the past three years at [Minnesota]," Reilly said. "He's a great skater, one of the best I've ever seen in college. He's strong, put on some good weight, and he's very agile. His stick skills are getting better and I think that's an underrated part of his game. One player I'd compare him to is Ryan McDonagh in the way he plays and leads. Brady is going to have a great career."

Skjei said it was a bit odd facing Reilly (6-2, 186 pounds) for the first time. The duo skated together as a pair for one period over three seasons with the Gophers.

"He was probably my best buddy at the University of Minnesota so it was a lot of fun playing against him," Skjei said. "Just about every team wanted him [when Reilly became a free agent on June 15] and he picked a spot that he felt where he could play right away and it's a good fit for him. He can really quarterback a power play."

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