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Offense Coming Quickly for Rookie Skjei

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Joining Brian Leetch in any statiscal category is about as good as it gets for a New York Rangers defenseman, especially one still in his first year in the NHL.

But that's what Brady Skjei did Sunday when he assisted on Kevin Hayes' first period goal that extended the blueliner's assist streak to five games, making him the first Rangers rookie defenseman since Leetch in 1988-89 to pick up helpers in at least five straight contests.

While Skjei still needs two tie and three to pass the Hall of Famer, the fact that he's in such elite company shows how well No. 76 has played over this recent stretch of games.

"The confidence is - I'm definitely feeling good about myself right now," Skjei told after Sunday's victory over the Jets, the team's fifth straight. "I didn't know that record. That's pretty cool."

It seems like much longer than just a month when Skjei admitted that his training camp was not up to par. But once the regular season began, Skjei has much more like the player he was in last year's playoffs, one of the bright spots in a disappointing five-game series defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh.

The 2012 first-round pick has eight assists in 13 games this season and is currently tied for the most assists by a rookie this season. His eight points overall is eighth among rookies, but just four off the lead.

Video: TBL@NYR: Grabner scores off of Skjei's feed

Confidence is everything in this game and according to Marc Staal, even more so for a young player like Skjei.

"It's big, especially early in the season," Staal said. "You want to improve and you want to get the feeling where when you get on the ice you can make a great play and take over a shift. He's been able to do that pretty consistently over the last bunch of games. It's nice to see. It's been big for us."

A big change for Skjei has been his use on the power play. Last year in seven games he averaged just 17 seconds. This year in 13 games, he's up to 57 seconds. That use just further adds to his positive feelings about his play.

"That's huge," Skjei said. "It shows [the coaching staff] have confidence in your offensive abilities. That's one thing that I really worked on in the offseason. I think that's a part of the game I can really be part of with my skating ability. It's a huge confidence booster being on the power play."

Head coach Alain Vigneault said he's liked Skjei's ability to use his legs to get out of trouble.

"What I've liked about Brady's progression is he's skating away from the hard pressure, and being able to beat the forecheck," Vigneault said. "Sometimes you beat the forecheck with a good first pass, sometimes you beat it by wheeling, and turning, and skating up the ice, and he's been able to do that against hard forechecking teams."

It's those legs, according to Skjei, that's allowed him to blossom over the last handful of games into one of the team's biggest offensive threats from the blueline.

"I'm just trying to make the plays when they're there and when I see an opportunity to jump into the play I try to take the opportunity and use my speed and right now, pucks are going in," Skjei stated. "I'm just trying to ride it out."

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