GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk triggered the headlines and the re-signing of Brendan Smith added some snarl to the Rangers blueline this summer.
Meanwhile, Brady Skjei, voted to the NHL All-Rookie Team last season, whose role will increase with the roster changes, played in a competitive 4-on-4 league filled with NHLers, and flew under the radar in his native Minnesota. That will change soon.
Skjei, 23, who was 5-34-39 in 80 games and 4-1-5 in 12 playoff games, is a 2012 first-round draft choice who appears to be a rising star. His 39 points were the most by a Rangers rookie defender since Brian Leetch in 1988-89.
Skjei’s speed helps him in the transition game on offense and allows him to recover after misplays. He averaged 17:27 per game and could add a few more minutes per game playing with Smith, 28, on the second defense pair.
After he signed, Smith, who likes a physical, emotional game, remarked that the duo gelled after he arrived from Detroit because they each brought different elements to the rink and added: “We can only get better with the more time we’re together.”
The 6-3 Skjei seems in great shape after playing in Da Beauty League, a circuit based in Edina that primarily includes Minnesota natives, such as Ryan McDonagh and Islanders Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. “It helps a lot condition-wise,” Skjei said Tuesday. “In July, it gets you in shape quick, and playing against those guys, it’s good pace and a ton of skill. It also helps that there’s about 2,000 people in the stands, rather than practicing in an empty building.”
It will be a new-look Blueshirts squad with veteran defensemen Dan Girardi bought out and Kevin Klein retired and Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta traded to Arizona, Skjei said. “It’s a younger team for sure; we’ve still got the core guys like Hank (Henrik Lundqvist), Mac (McDonagh), (Marc) Staal. But the younger core needs to step up and have some new leaders emerge. There’s no need to change (our game) too much . . . I’ve only played a year and a little bit, but think I can step up, too.”
Notes & quotes: The GAG (Goal-A-Game Line) of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield will be reunited and honored at the annual Rangers charity golf tournament on Wednesday. Ratelle’s No. 19 will be raised to the MSG rafters on Feb. 25 . . . Nick Holden, who surrendered his No. 22 to Shattenkirk, is wearing No. 55 . . . Former Canadiens center David Desharnais practiced for the first time with his new club.