Steady Skjei developing into two-way defender for Minnesota

By DJ Powers

Brady Skjei - University of Minnesota

Photo: University of Minnesota defenseman and New York Rangers prospect Brady Skjei has been a steady defensive performer for the Golden Gophers in 2013-14, a trait that should come in handy as Minnesota moves on to the 2014 Frozen Four (courtesy of Brian Ekart/Icon SMI)

University of Minnesota sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei (NYR) has become an integral part of the Golden Gophers success this season, particularly from the defensive standpoint. But the Lakeville, MN native isn't all poke checks and shot blocks as he has also contributed on offense, posting 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 38 games to date.

In addition to his solid play for Minnesota this season, Skjei also was a part of the Team USA squad at the 2014 U20 World Junior Championship in Sweden.

Hockey’s Future spoke with Skjei after Minnesota’s 7-3 win over Robert Morris University in the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinal game on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.

Q: You guys are just one step away from going to Philadelphia for the Frozen Four. How does it feel knowing that you are that close?

BS: It’s awesome. Obviously we’re not finished yet, but it’s definitely a good start. We have a bit of a chip on our shoulder from last year, but we’ve got that first game under our belts this year and we’re excited about playing for the chance to go to Frozen Four on Sunday night. Our goal is obviously to get to the Frozen Four, but we also want to win it as well.

Q: In watching you play this season, I’ve noticed that your role on the team has really expanded. Can you talk about how it has expanded and evolved?

BS: I think I’ve got more confidence in myself and the coaches have more confidence in me this year. I was kind of just a shutdown guy last year. I think I’ve become a better shutdown guy this year that’s also adding a little bit of offense, too. So I’m trying to be more of an all-around player. The coaches have been really helping me with that, so that’s been going good.

Q: You played with Team USA at the World Junior Championship earlier this year. What was the experience like for you personally playing on that type of stage?

BS: It was an unbelievable experience. One of my goals this season was to be able to make that team and I was able to do that. You’re playing against some of the top guys in the world in your age group and so that was fun. The group of guys that we (Team USA) had was a great group of guys. I played with a lot of them in Ann Arbor for two years, so it was good to get back together with them. My role on that team was definitely as a shutdown guy and I felt that I did a good job in that role.

Q: Was there something that you were able to bring back with you from the World Juniors that was either lacking or missing from your game prior to it?

BS: I think I gained more confidence after playing in the World Juniors. I had a chance to see and playa against some of the top guys and top draft picks in the world. Being a shutdown guy, they kept me on my feet and made sure that I was playing at the top of my game defensively. I think that really helped me when I came back to Minnesota. I also think that having that opportunity to jump up into the plays helped me, as well.

Q: In what area(s) do you feel that you’ve made the greatest strides in your development this season?

BS: I think shutting down guys with my (added) strength. The coaches put me out there against the other teams’ top lines, so shutting them down became my role this year. I think I’ve also gotten better at jumping into plays, too, especially in the second half of the year. I’ve been able to put a few pucks into the net, so that’s helped the team.

Q: I know that your NHL rights are held by the New York Rangers. Did you go to their prospects camp last summer?

BS: Yes, I did.

Q: What were some of the things that you learned at the camp that you’ve been able to bring back with you that have made you a better player this season?

BS: Again, I think just the higher level of confidence. The Rangers are a great organization that’s well run. It was a fun camp for me and I gained a lot of confidence from being there because I was playing with some top guys that I hadn’t seen in awhile. The camp taught me how to be a better two-way guy and that was another thing that I took away from the camp that has helped me this whole season.

Q: Have you had any contact with the Rangers and have they been keeping close tabs on you this season?

BS: I’ve talked to them a few times this year, but not a lot, which has been nice. They’ve definitely been keeping tabs on me. For the most part, they’ve left me alone. They just want me to focus on getting better and what I’m doing with the team here at Minnesota, and that’s something I definitely respect.

Q: What are some of the areas that you’ve been continually working on this season that you feel will enable you to take that next step in your development?

BS: I think one of the things is working on my shot from the point and having a harder shot. I think I have a decent shot, but I want to be the guy that the other teams have to look out for whenever he’s shooting the puck. So I’ll be shooting a lot in the off-season (Laughs).

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF