The Rangers recalled rookie defenseman Brady Skjei from the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack mid-afternoon on Tuesday with the clear intention to dress their 2012 first-round pick in the night’s game against the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
Skjei, 21, will be making his third career appearance of both this season and his NHL career. Captain Ryan McDonagh (neck spasms, jaw contusion) already was ruled out of Tuesday’s game, but presumably some last-minute issue came up with one of Alain Vigneault’s other six defensemen to require Skjei’s call-up.
Vigneault just pointed out Sunday when the team recalled rookie forward Marek Hrivik that he and GM Jeff Gorton did not intend to call up players such as Skjei prior to the trade deadline unless absolutely necessary, since the Rangers have little cap space and need to save all the money they can.
If Skjei’s call-up is purely a hockey decision, it was done because he is a left-handed defenseman, just like McDonagh. In the captain’s absence, right-handed veteran Dan Boyle has played his unnatural left side on the third pairing, but it’s far from an ideal scenario, even if the Rangers are coming off a 1-0 OT shutout win over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night at the Garden.
If Skjei’s call-up is a hockey decision, that would bump either Boyle or rookie Dylan McIlrath out of the lineup. Boyle was battling the flu as of late last week and McIlrath’s play has been slightly off lately, coinciding – not coincidentally – with Vigneault pulling him in and out of the lineup.
Skjei (pronounced “SHAY”), a 6-3, 215-pound defenseman, played in two Rangers losses in mid-December: a 4-2 defeat to Edmonton at the Garden on Dec. 15 and a 5-2 loss to the Wild in his home state of Minnesota on Dec. 17. Skjei logged 14:54 of ice time against the Oilers but struggled mightily through 15:17 of ice tiem against a Wild team that targeted the young blue liner in their game plan.
Skjei, however, has received rave reviews and scouting reports that he’s improved steadily through 52 games with the Wolf Pack this season, registering three goals, 22 points and 20 penalty minutes.
He is a strong skater and a good puck mover, out of the U.S. National Team development program and the University of Minnesota. The Rangers viewed him as a raw, young McDonagh-type when they drafted the Lakeville, Minn., product 28th overall in 2012.
Even though Skjei is playing Tuesday night, he is not expected to travel with the team to St. Louis and Dallas beginning on Wednesday because McDonagh will be on the trip and is likely returning to the lineup against the Blues, or at the latest against the Stars.
Vigneault was due to address the media at 5 p.m. to clarify the reason for the late, 2 p.m. call-up of Skjei. A planned call-up normally happens at noon.
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