It was three years in the making, but thus far the wait has been worth it for Rangers 2012 first-round pick Brady Skjei, who wore the Blueshirts' sweater for the first time at Madison Square Garden in the team's 6-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils Monday in the preseason opener.
"It was awesome," Skjei said with a smile. "Getting the win was awesome but I mean going out for warmups and my first shift was a pretty great experience. I've been waiting for that for a long time, so it was a lot of fun."
The bright lights of Broadway are imposing for any player, especially one playing his first game in the National Hockey League. Early on, Skjei said he tried to remain focused on the task at hand, which is trying to show Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff that he's ready to stick with the big club when it opens the regular season in just over two weeks' time in Chicago.
"I was trying to stay focused as much as I can, but I caught myself once kind of looking around the rink a little bit," the defenseman said. "I was pretty focused on the game."
Overall, the night was a success for Skjei, who picked up an assist and was a plus-three in 19:50 of ice time. He saw time on the power play and the penalty kill playing alongside Kevin Klein and Dylan McIlrath throughout the contest.
"I thought I played pretty good," offered Skjei. "There's room for improvement and I also did a few good things. I thought I played a pretty good game and kept it simple and just played my game."
It appeared Vigneault felt the same way. After the game, Vigneault mentioned Skjei as a player who he felt played well in the exhibition opener.
"Brady Skjei, first NHL game, you can see him getting more comfortable as the game went on," the bench boss said. "I liked his skill, his skating, his gap. It's exhibition. Veteran guys are trying to get their rhythm, get their timing and the other guys are trying to impress us and show us they belong."
Skjei has experience at the pro level. After leaving the University of Minnesota following his junior season with the Gophers, Skjei signed with the organization and appeared in eight regular season games with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL, and another 15 in the playoffs. With that said, playing against several NHLers was still something he had not experience.
"It's a jump for sure," Skjei said of the competition. "I think Hartford was a really good experience for me playing out the year last year. That was a lot like this game. I think it's a definite step and you just have to be a little quicker on your toes and think a little faster and it's not too bad."