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Rookie defenseman Brady Skjei showing significant improvement

New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei skates with

New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

In the waning seconds of the second period on Tuesday, the Rangers were trouncing the Blues, 5-0, and St. Louis forward David Perron’s frustration spilled over.

Perron knocked Brady Skjei’s helmet off and then checked the rookie defenseman to the ice near the blue paint in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Skjei jumped up and went nose-to-nose with Perron, shoving him several times as a scrum gathered.

Chalk up the display of defiance as another step in the developing career of Skjei, 22, a smart, fluid, agile skater for his size (6-3, 205) who was drafted 28th overall in 2012. Scouts praised his two-way play and the ability to be creative when he joined the rush. The only knock was that he wasn’t overly physical. Maybe that perception will change.

To be sure, on a quick, north-south team with 11 players already having six or more points, Skjei is gliding under the radar. Skjei is tied for fourth among NHL rookie defensemen in points and leads that group in hits (20).

Against the Blues, Skjei played a season-high 18:37, including 3:16 on the power play, on which he earned his fourth assist of the season, snapping a pass from the right point deep to Derek Stepan, who fed Jimmy Vesey in front for a 2-0 lead. The assist came just a game after his third assist against Tampa, a terrific pass from the left corner through traffic to Michael Grabner in the right circle for the first goal of his hat trick.

“I’m still a young player, only 20-something games, so I’m kind of figuring it out a little bit,” Skjei told Newsday after Tuesday’s win. “I’m learning when to take my chances, to make a play. The more games you play, the more experience you get. I’m moving the puck well and the coach is showing confidence in me, I made a few plays and I’m getting rewarded with some power play time. I’ll keep working on that; getting that one [goal] was big.”

The Minnesota native, who worked out with Stepan and Ryan McDonagh last summer, has played just 22 NHL games — 10 this season, five playoff games against the Penguins last spring (in which he posted two assists), and seven games before that. Before his call-up, he was 4-24-28 in 68 AHL games with Hartford.

During training camp, the normally-poised Skjei was jumpy and making some questionable decisions. But he improved in the final preseason games after assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom, who also coached the defense with the Wolf Pack, told him to stop overthinking and just play.

“When you’re playing a bunch, you get into the rhythm of the game,” Skjei said. “All of our ‘D’ can move the puck, but you’ve got to know who you’re playing against, what line, and yeah, my confidence is up, too. Our team is just playing with a lot of speed, which makes us hard to play against, and our odd-man rushes are converting right now.”

Blue notes

The Rangers have scored 40 goals in their first 10 games. They haven’t done that since the 1992-93 season. It should be noted that the ’92-93 team finished 34-39-11 and 15th out of 24 teams in goals. They missed the playoffs that season . . . Henrik Lundqvist has 60 career shutouts. He needs five more to reach fifth place among goalies with the most shutouts with one team: Martin Brodeur (124), Devils; Terry Sawchuk (85), Red Wings; George Hainsworth (75), Canadiens; and Tony Esposito (74), Blackhawks.

New York Sports