Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he was pleased with the play of rookie defenseman Brady Skjei Wednesday night in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and expects that to only improve as the playoffs go along.
“There were a lot of good things,” Vigneault told reporters Friday at the team’s practice at CONSOL Energy Center, a day before the series continues Saturday afternoon. “I do believe he’s only going to get better. His skating is National League [level]. He moves the puck well, so I think — he was probably nervous in that one — [he] will probably be better in the next one.”
Skjei, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, said he too was pleased with the way he played in the first playoff game of his young career.
“I felt like I was pretty solid the whole time,” Skjei told BlueshirtsUnited.com. “I don’t think I got too high or too low, which was nice. I tried to keep an even keel the whole time, and I thought I did a pretty good job of that.”
The 22-year-old finished the night with one shot in 17:08 of ice time, and looked comfortable joining the rush throughout the contest, though he stressed that his No. 1 job is to be responsible in his own end.
“I want to focus on the defense first for sure,” Skjei said. “That’s a huge part, keeping the puck out in the playoffs. I think I can use my skating to my advantage, and if I can beat a couple of forwards up the rink I’ll do that and try and join the rush whenever I can.”
Skjei has taken the place on the left side vacated by captain Ryan McDonagh, who continues to recover from an upper-body injury that kept him out of the final three regular season games and the first game of the playoffs. He is not expected to play Saturday in Game 2.
Vigneault said an extra call up on defense could happen prior to Saturday’s game to allow the team to have seven healthy defensemen following the injury to Dan Girardi that will keep him out of the contest. When Vigneault was asked about potential risks in having rookies Skjei and Dylan McIlrath in the lineup, the bench boss showed confidence in Skjei.
“I think Brady — talent has no age,” Vigneault said. “The year he spent in Hartford, in my opinion, has gotten him ready for this moment. This is obviously a big stage, but I think he’s proven he can play and play well.”
When the puck drops Saturday, Skjei said he expects to be more comfortable now that the first postseason game is under his belt.
“I’ll feel more comfortable for sure,” he said. “I think that I’ll try and get right into the game with a hit or a blocked shot or a pass. That usually helps right away and it helps you get into the game that that’s what I’ll be looking to do.”