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Jacob Trouba is No Stranger to Rangers Roster

The newly acquired defenseman counts Brady Skjei among his childhood friends; played with Brendan Lemieux, Boo Nieves

by Jess Isner

It was just a normal Monday evening for Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei. He was at home in Lakeville, Minn., when, just before 7 PM, he received a FaceTime from longtime buddy Jacob Trouba. 

"He just said, 'What's up, teammate?'" Skjei said of learning that his childhood friend had been traded from the Winnipeg Jets to the New York Rangers. "We were both really pumped on the call - a few yells of 'Let's go!' We were both thrilled."

Skjei met Trouba - acquired on Monday in exchange for Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in Friday's NHL Draft - when they were sophomores in high school and were trying out for the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. They played there together for two years (2010-2012) before setting off for college - Skjei to the University of Minnesota and Trouba to the University of Michigan. 

At Michigan, Trouba played for one season with Rangers forward Boo Nieves. Then he signed with the Jets, where he played two of his six seasons with Ranger Brendan Lemieux, who was acquired from Winnipeg at the 2019 Trade Deadline. 

So although New York presents quite a change of scenery from what Trouba has known for the last six years in Winnipeg, the Rangers dressing room will sort of feel just like home. 

"I've had a great relationship with Brady for a long time," Trouba said. "When he's in Winnipeg, we'd usually go to dinner, and I'd see him when I'd come to New York the last couple of years. We've always been close. Playing with Kevin [Hayes], I know he's not there anymore, but we talked a lot about New York and just his time there and that kind of stuff. I had time with Boo at Michigan, so we have a good relationship. There's a lot of guys. The hockey world's pretty close."  

When Rangers GM Jeff Gorton set out to acquire Trouba, he knew what he was getting on the ice. Trouba is described the same way by pretty much anyone who has ever played with him or watched him: a marquee defensive asset who can play in all situations and contribute on the scoresheet. 

"Troubs is obviously a high-end skilled defenseman who can play offense really well and is an equally good defender and is smart defensively and plays really hard," said Lemieux. "So he's obviously a really exciting piece to add in New York."

Added Skjei, "He's the kind of guy who can play in all situations - he can play on the power play, play on the penalty kill, play against other teams' top lines. He's just all around a really good defenseman, and he's been that same way for forever since I've known him. He's been the kind of guy who can do it all. Definitely a huge pickup for us."

Off the ice, Skjei said Trouba is just as much of an asset - "Well-liked wherever he goes," he said. 

And although Skjei has counted many a Ranger among some of his best friends in life, this is the first time he's had a childhood friend join his team, which is uniquely special and doubtlessly comforting for Trouba, who will be uprooting his life this summer and relocating to New York before training camp begins.

"Obviously I'll be able to help him out with certain things around the rink, but he'll be fine," Skjei said. "He's a guy who can fit in right away, but definitely it'll be great to obviously continue our friendship and hopefully do something really special in New York together."

Last February, Lemieux relocated from Winnipeg to New York, though under different circumstances: He was acquired in a deadline deal that sent Hayes to the Jets. 

For him, there was no time to acclimate to his new surroundings. For him, it was jump in head first and worry about taking a breath later. 

"I think it's going to be an easier transition for Troubs, obviously, him having more NHL experience and then obviously making the change in the summertime as opposed to during the season," Lemieux said. "He'll get a training camp, he'll practice, he'll get to see the facilities before he actually plays in them, so that will be probably a little bit easier for him. Obviously his experience - he's been in the league for a lot longer than I have, so it'll make for an easier transition, I think. He's been in Winnipeg a long time, so it'll be a bit of a change for him and I'm sure he's really excited about it."

In the 48 hours or so that he has been a Ranger, Trouba has spoken briefly to Gorton and Head Coach David Quinn. He's talked to his new teammates a little bit, but not about anything too in-depth. He's still allowing his new reality to sink in. 

But if Skjei had to give him a scouting report for what to expect from his new team - which he doubtlessly will at some point in the next two months - he'd keep it simple. 

"I'd tell him we're a hardworking team," he said. "We come to the rink every day ready to work hard in practice, and I think that translates really well to the rink, and I'd also say that we have a really bright future here. Obviously now with him being a part of it - we were excited for next year without him, but now with him being on the team, it makes it that much better, and I think with the young guys that we have and the kind of core group of guys that we have, we should have a really good team next year and just really excited for the future. 

"It's really exciting, and people should be looking forward to it."

As currently constituted, the Rangers of 2019-20 look quite a bit different from the Rangers of 2018-19. There have been trades and acquisitions, with another big one coming on June 21st at the NHL Draft. From afar, Skjei has watched all of it unfold over the last two months. It's kind of made him feel like a fan. Even for him, it's been hard to contain the excitement. 

"It's been amazing," Skjei said. "Gorts has done a great job. I kind of heard that he was after Trouba for a little bit, and to be able to get a marquee guy like him, it's huge. But other moves we're making, and we're probably going to make, are really exciting. This draft, having the second overall pick, we kind of have an idea of what we're going to get and obviously expecting a really good player there. 

"The future in New York is looking brighter and brighter every day."

Less than 10 years ago, Skjei and Trouba were kids living out their dreams together in Ann Arbor, playing hockey and, in their downtime, just being kids - going to prom, spending summers by their buddy's pool. 

In fact, there's photographic evidence of both.

"I was wearing his sunglasses, by the way," Trouba insisted, referring to the rather unattractive white frames he wore in said poolside photo. "I would never buy those."

Countered Skjei, "That is such a lie and he knows it. I had my sunglasses on, and those were his. Those are definitely not my white sunglasses."

Eight years ago, if you had told those two kids while they were lounging poolside in Ann Arbor that in October 2019, they'd be opening the NHL season in matching New York Rangers sweaters at Madison Square Garden - possibly even on the same defensive pairing - well, there's simply no way they would have believed you. 

"For that to be a thing, and to be able to play with him for sure but maybe even be partners - that would be really special," Skjei said. "All we've done, and all we've been through, it would be unbelievable. 

"I can speak for him, too - we're both just really excited for it and really looking forward to the start of the season."

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