Rangers prospect Mackenzie Skapski is out to prove he's the same goaltender he was before hip surgery derailed his development over a year ago that sidelined the netminder for the summer and the opening months of last season.
"It was my first experience with a hockey injury," Skapski told BlueshirtsUnited.com on the opening day of the organization's prospect camp. "I didn't really expect it to be all that bad. It's definitely an adjustment period. The strength wasn't there throughout the season. Now, you flip the page. It's a new season, good or bad."
Skapski, 21, returned to action in November with Greenville (ECHL) before being recalled to Hartford (AHL) on Nov. 13. He'd spend the rest of that month and half of December with the Wolf Pack, appearing in 10 games and winning two. He was then sent back to Greenville where he'd spend the majority of the remainder of the season before a late recall to the Pack.
The 2013 sixth-round pick said it was a difficult season for him due to the injury that limited his strength and mobility, two crucial areas for any goaltender to have success at any level.
"I think the majority of the season up until the last week or two weeks, my injury was pretty noticeable throughout the year," said Skapski, who went 5-14-0-4 with the Swamp Rabbits.
To make matters worse, Skapski was coming off a strong first pro campaign that saw him go 15-8-3 with the Wolf Pack and 2-0 with the Rangers in 2014-15. Skapski said he was moving in the right direction in terms of his development, but the injury made progression nearly impossible last season.
"You look to make steps every year," Skapski said. "I was looking to make a big step. Reality was I wasn't there physically. I really couldn't make that step. I was trying to build off the year before but I had to take a step back."
Skapski said he f"turned a little bit of a corner" during the final stretch of the season, when he went 2-1 with a 1.65 goals against in three games with the Wolf Pack in April. He's looking to build off that success this summer and into the fall.
The goaltender said he's been working with a strength and mobility coach back in Vancouver since the season ended and he's feeling better than he has in the 13 months since the surgery.
"I'm where I want to be," Skapski said. "I'm going to try and make that step to be not only in Hartford, but back up [in New York] again."
That starts with a strong prospect camp and possibly an assignment with the team at the Traverse City Tournament in mid-September. Skapski knows a good camp will lead to good things for him as he continues to work his way back.
"Just the off year and coming back, proving people that I'm strong again and I can play," Skapski said when asked about what he's looking to show this week. "[The front office] influence where I play and I influence where I play as well."