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Skjei Looks to Take the Next Step in 2017-18

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

Defenseman Brady Skjei is ready to take that next step heading into his second full season with the Rangers.

But what exactly is that next step?

"Be better defensively," Skjei told reporters following the first day of on-ice practice at Rangers training camp. "I want to be trusted at both ends of the rink. I've got to be physically stronger in front of the net and make the right plays when they're there. Everything I get this year I have to earn. I'm excited for the challenge."

Skjei had a strong rookie season a year ago, amassing five goals and 34 assists for 39 points. Skjei was ninth in rookie scoring in 2016-17, and second among defensemen behind Columbus' Zach Werenski, who had 47 points. The difference, though, is Werenski averaged 20:54 per game, three minutes more than Skjei.

Werenski, meanwhile, had 2:47 per game on the power play, compared to just 1:23 for Skjei.

But while Skjei would like to improve on those offensive numbers, he won't do it at the expense of solid defense. He said if he's doing his job in his own end, success will come at the other.

"I obviously would like to for sure, but I think if you play an all-around solid game the points will come," he said. "You can't cheat on the offensive side of the puck. You have to play strong defensively and make the right plays when they're there and the points will come."

Skjei said he feels his workouts with Ryan McDonagh over the summer allowed him to camp ready to hit the ground running, and head coach Alain Vigneault certainly feels the 23-year-old did just that.

"You can tell Brady's working out with [McDonagh] and the influence and the impact," Vigneault said. "His tests again, in the time I've been here, Brady has improved, improved and improve. Now, he's right near the Mac level as far as the Mac level. That says a lot about him."

Vigneault said that work will translate to improved play on the ice in a myriad of ways.

"I think that's going to materialize on the ice," Vigneault said of Skjei's offseason prep. "Better decision making, quicker decision making with the puck, better decision making, quicker decision making without the puck. He's doing everything he can right now to become the best player that he can be, and we need that. We need that from our group if we're going to be a better team."

Video: Brady Skjei on improving his game

Skjei's strong season caught the eyes of many around the NHL, including new Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk, who at his introductory press conference in July mentioned No. 76 by name as someone he's looking forward to playing alongside.

On Saturday, Shattenkirk reiterated those feelings now that the two have skated together at informals and during Friday's conditioning testing.

"I think the most exciting part is we haven't really seen his ceiling," Shattenkirk said. "I haven't seen him play too much, but when I have he just caught my attention. I think for a young player to do that, that's obviously indicative of the type of player that he is. He still hasn't learned just the nuances of the game and figured out just the little things you do to make it easier on yourself."

Shattenkirk, though, is more than willing to help guide the younger Skjei.

"With his skating ability, the way he can defend, all the other stuff, hopefully I can impart some offensive wisdom onto him and coach him through a few things," Shattenkirk said. "It's just going to be fun to be able to - it's always fun to watch someone who plays a little bit different than you. Even as an older guy, you can pick up some things."

While his place on the roster is more secure than it was at this time 12 months ago, Skjei is approaching camp the same way he did last year.

"I for sure come in fighting for a spot and earn a spot again," he said. "Last year wasn't the camp I wanted. I wasn't feeling great, but that's not an excuse. I'm looking to have a solid camp and really start the year on the right foot. I've got to earn everything I get this year for sure."

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