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Skjei Emerges as Positive for Blueshirts

by Matthew Calamia / New York Rangers

It may be hard to find positives in the Rangers' disappointing five-game series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it's hard to argue the emergence of rookie defenseman Brady Skjei isn't one.

The 22-year-old blueliner, whom the Rangers selected 28th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, rose to the occasion for the Blueshirts in the absence of captain Ryan McDonagh for the final three games of the regular season and all five postseason games.

In fact, Skjei's play was so positive that when McDonagh returned to action for Game 3, Skjei not only remained in the lineup but played alongside the captain.

Quite an impression.

"I got a good feel from the guys," Skjei said Tuesday. "They put trust in me. I know it's hard for a guy to come in here and get the guys' trust right away, especially in playoff games. I just tried to be better every day and I thought I did that."

Skjei appeared in a pair of games in December, and another each in February and March, averaging 17:44 of ice time. But the playoffs were a different story for the Minnesota native, who saw his ice time increase to 18:22. While it may not see like much, it is when factoring the increased weight of the playoffs, as well as the role in which he played.

"A lot of the advice [I received] was just play my game," Skjei said when asked what teammates and coaches told him during his extended stint in New York, which featured two assists in the five-game playoff round. "It wasn't anything crazy. They just wanted me to relax and not think too much, just go out and play, which definitely settled me down. That for sure helped."

While teams would prefer to not throw a rookie into the deep end, it's a must for a team looking to add talent throughout the lineup moving forward.

"With the amount of experience he had, he definitely showed a real strong skill set, as far as being able to skate and defend, being able to skate and move the puck," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "Those are very important attributes for a defenseman and he certainly showed both of those."

Skjei emergence could have took some by surprise, but according to McDonagh, players from Hartford stepping in and playing large roles is necessary moving forward.

"Brady making a huge impact in the playoffs there, probably playing more of a role than he even anticipated, having spent the majority of the year in Hartford ... it has to be the staple of the franchise now," McDonagh said Tuesday.

Skjei said the '"little taste" is beneficial to his development and summer training. After leaving New York, he'll head to Russia to play for Team USA at the World Championships that begin May 6. After that, it's training.

"Just getting a little taste, you know what you have to work on and what you need to improve on," Skjei said. "That way, [the experience] helped me a ton. I think I'll come in more comfortable with the guys. That'll be nice right away at camp. I'm really looking forward to getting into the weight room and on the ice in the summer and getting better."

The other taste Skjei had was the hunger for a championship. After seeing the disappointment on the faces of his teammates, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher said the drive for success next year is only ramped up.

"This is definitely a disappointing year, the way it ended," Skjei said. "The guys in this room have confidence in each other that we can make a good run here. Just come back next year and put it all out there."

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