He’s in his second year in the NHL, and has 157 games under his belt. On the current Rangers defense, that makes Brady Skjei a seasoned veteran.
“When the young guys came up, I tried to help them out,’’ Skjei said recently, when asked about how the Rangers’ rebuild has thrust him into a leadership role at the tender age of 23. “We lost a lot of leaders on the back end, so I try to maybe be a little bit more vocal in the locker room.’’
Wait, did he say “the young guys?’’
“I know,’’ he said with a smile. “I’m not even old.’’
He’s old enough to be charged with breaking in another young guy on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at the Garden. Skjei was partnered on defense with 25-year-old Ryan Sproul, who was called up from AHL Hartford to replace Tony DeAngelo, who suffered a high sprain of his left ankle in Monday’s 6-3 win over Carolina.
DeAngelo, who was injured when he crashed awkwardly into the boards, will be out 3-4 weeks, the Rangers said. His season is likely over.
Skjei, who was paired with DeAngelo before his injury, played with Sproul on Wednesday without the benefit of ever having played or practiced with him before. The only time they skated together was during Wednesday’s morning skate.
No biggie, Skjei said.
“We’ll need to talk a lot, for sure, on the ice,’’ Skjei said after the skate. “There’s going to be a lot of communication. I mean, I’ve seen him play, so I know his game a little bit, but we’ll get a feel for each other probably the first 10 minutes of the game. It’s not a new thing this year, especially we’ve been switching partners a ton.’’
The Rangers are very green on their blue line because Kevin Shattenkirk is still injured and Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden were traded last month, Other than Marc Staal and Skjei, none of the Rangers defensemen entered Wednesday had played more than 32 career NHL games. John Gilmour and Neal Pionk had played 16 games each, with Smithtown native Rob O’Gara coming in with 21 games and Sproul 32, including four with the Rangers earlier this season.
(Playing behind them against the Penguins, by the way, goaltender Alexandar Georgiev had played in just five games.)
It’s not lost on Skjei, who had played in all 70 games on the season and produced three goals and 17 assists for 20 points, that he is younger than Sproul, O’Gara and Gilmour. But as the personnel in the locker room changed around him, Skjei said he understood he had no choice but to step up and help show the new guys the way. According to O’Gara, looking at Skjei as a leader isn’t unnatural at all.
“You look at the games played, and it’s kind of lopsided,’’ O’Gara said. “But Brady handles it really well; he handles it like he’s been around forever. He is, I feel like, a leader in that role, and I feel like he’s kind of embracing it. I think it’s really good.’’
Notes & quotes: David Desharnais, who missed Saturday’s game because of kidney stones but then played Monday, said he passed the stones Tuesday morning . . . The Rangers planned to take Thursday off, then practice Friday before flying to St. Louis.