After the Rangers’ outdoor practice at Central Park’s Lasker Rink on Saturday, former high school quarterback Brady Skjei grinned ear to ear as he grabbed a few rolled-up T-shirts and chucked them at fans standing on the grass.
The 25-year-old defenseman’s face turned serious, though, when he was asked to talk about being scratched from the lineup in the Rangers’ last game, a 4-2 road win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
“No,’’ he said when asked if he was shocked to be scratched. “I think I need to be better.
“To stay in the lineup, I need to be playing well. And I think the last two games [Monday and Wednesday], I took a little step back. I definitely want to get back in soon.’’
He will. The Rangers announced Saturday that defenseman Marc Staal had surgery Friday to address an infection in his ankle. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks, the team said.
Coach David Quinn said the Rangers won’t immediately recall a defenseman from AHL Hartford, meaning the team has only six healthy defensemen on the roster, not counting Brendan Smith, who has been playing as a forward on the fourth line. That means Skjei will draw back into the lineup Sunday afternoon when the Rangers host the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden.
Quinn said he expects Skjei to be a better player when he returns.
“He went, a little bit, through this last year [Skjei was scratched for two games in mid-November last season], and he came back and had a strong second half,’’ Quinn said. “I’m anticipating a great response out of him [Sunday].’’
Skjei was asked if sitting out for a game can help him be better.
“It motivates you to get back in the lineup,’’ he said. “You can sit back and watch and kind of learn a few things. But the main part is I’ve got to step it up, and it definitely motivates me to get back in the lineup.’’
Skjei, who said he watches all of his shifts in every game to try to find ways to improve, was asked exactly what needs to be improved.
“My all-around game, I think, can be a little better,’’ he said. “I think you start skating more. That’s probably the best part of my game, is, you know, my feet. Usually, that gets me out of a lot of trouble. So just start moving my feet more and skate as much as I can.’’
Quinn said he hopes to see a more confident Skjei on Sunday.
“I’ve said this about him a lot: He loses his confidence because he cares so much. And I know that may sound a little crazy, but he does,’’ Quinn said. “And you know, when he’s just dialed in and playing a little angry, and not worrying what people think, he’s a very good player.’’