Brady Skjei, the Rangers’ young defenseman-in-waiting, didn’t want to keep a small group of writers waiting. He hustled out of the shower in the visitors’ locker room in First Niagara Center following the Rangers’ 4-2 win on Tuesday wearing just a dark blue towel.
Someone asked if he wanted to get dressed before a few questions.
“Any cameras?” he asked. “No? Then let’s go.”
Actually, it’s the Rangers who should be in a hurry to get Skjei, 21, one of the better players in an ugly victory, back on the ice.
The 6-3, 205-pound defenseman, who had three goals and 20 assists in his first full year with the Hartford Wolf Pack, played 17:38, including 1:35 shorthanded, in his third call-up this season. He also attempted five shots; three were blocked.
“I thought he played well,” said Rangers coach Alain Vig neault, who used Skjei when the Rangers were frantically trying to protect a 3-2 lead. “We had him out there toward the end. You can see the big body, he skates well, moves the puck. I’m very pleased with his progression. He came in and helped us tonight . . . I don’t think we should be getting ahead of ourselves and be thinking about next year’s training camp. There’s a chance we’re going to need him down the stretch.”
Skjei, along with goaltender Magnus Hellberg, was returned to Hartford Wednesday, but with seventh defenseman Dylan McIlrath expected to be sidelined a couple weeks with a knee injury, according to Vigneault, the Rangers will presumably bring an extra defenseman to the three-game trip to California that begins Monday.
The distance between the coasts makes it prudent to carry a spare in case of illness or injury. They also might prefer that Skjei keep playing regularly in the AHL rather than just practice on the trip, unless they want to rest a veteran or two for a game.
Going back to the minors Wednesday was something that the Lakeville, Minnesota, native expected.
“It’s tough, I mean, it keeps you motivated though,” said Skjei, who was selected 28th overall in the 2012 draft. “Obviously, it [stinks] the first hour or so, but it makes you want to work really hard to get back up here.”
But Skjei, who played 22:17 against the Devils on Feb. 23 when the Rangers were without Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh because of injuries, is getting acclimated to the pros.
“Each game, it kind of slows down a little more,” he said Tuesday. “I’m getting a feel for the guys and a feel for how to play up here and the speed of the game . . . I think I’m playing harder in the d-zone, throwing my weight around a little bit out there. I think my confidence is going up a little bit too, just from playing a few more games.”
His quick thinking and positioning showed late in the first period, when Skjei jumped in to clear the puck, near the goal line behind Antti Raanta, into the corner to preserve a 1-0 lead.
For now, Skjei awaits the next phone call from the front office.
“I can’t control that,” he said. “All I can control is how I play.”