PITTSBURGH — The Rangers hope defenseman Brady Skjei will be a big part of their near future. But the present often has plans of its own.
So there he was at noon Wednesday, sitting at his locker eight hours before the start of the playoffs and set to make his postseason debut seven regular-season games into his NHL career.
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Oh, and the opponent is Sidney Crosby’s high-powered Penguins.
Ready, young man?
“I’m confident right now,” he said. “I played seven games and I feel comfortable. I know this will be a step up, but I’ve been working for this my whole life. I’m ready.”
Still, Skjei — whose name is pronounced like the Mets’ old home stadium — admitted he could not have envisioned being in this position a month ago: “It’s crazy how things work out like that.”
With Ryan McDonagh out because of what is believed to be a broken bone in his right hand, coach Alain Vigneault likely will go with Skjei, a first-round draft pick in 2012 who was 3 months old when the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup.
Skjei said his biggest game before Wednesday was the 2014 NCAA championship game, in which his Minnesota team lost to Union, 7-4.
Since then he has played in 76 games over two seasons for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. As a Ranger, he has no points and four penalty minutes.
Teammates have advised him about the playoff vibe. “They told me the first couple of shifts be ready,” he said. “It will be high intensity, so just settle in as fast you can.”
Skjei spent the past three springs watching Rangers playoff games as an especially interested observer, knowing the idea was for him to join the fun eventually.
“I definitely kept track with the Rangers and watched them,” he said. “I thought I could play here some day. It’s awesome that this year I’ll be able to make that jump and play to my ability.”
This is just a stopgap — or so the Rangers hope. McDonagh could be back sometime in this series. But Skjei said nothing matters for now other than . . . now.
“I think I’ve played well here. I just want to keep going as long as I can,” he said. “I’m just focused on tonight, though. That’s really all I’m thinking about.”