According to Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record, the Rangers really wanted their 2012 first-round pick (28th overall) to turn pro because the team brass feels he's ready to be an NHL player:
"I'm not sure," the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Skjei said Monday as the Rangers opened their week-long prospect camp. "Gordie [Clark, the Rangers director of player personnel] has told me he thinks I'm ready. But I'm still thinking. It's tough, but I think one more year of development would only help me."
Skjei has announced his return for another season of NCAA hockey with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. "I can't wait to come back and build off of what we accomplished last year," Skjei told GopherSports.com's Brian Deutsch. "It's a new season and a new team, but I'm excited about our potential."
Although the Rangers would love having Skjei on their roster this year, having him go back for a third NCAA season isn't the worst thing in the world.
Ryan McDonagh, a player Skjei has been compared to, spent three years in the NCAA before moving on to a brief stint in the AHL. He then became an NHL regular.
BlueshirtsUnited.com's Jim Cerny quoted Clark when he stated the similarities to McDonagh:
The comparisons between Skjei and another Minnesota-born defenseman---Ryan McDonagh---at this same stage in development are quite striking, according to Clark. Skjei has patterned his game and style after McDonagh's, and Clark says that the players are similar in demanor as well as style. These guys don't show emotion, but they are both churning inside," Clark said of Skjei and McDonagh.
In Gross' article, Skjei himself talked about how he has modeled his game after the Rangers' top offensive defender.
"I think the last two or three years I've been trying to play a lot like him," said Skjei, who had six goals and eight assists in 40 games for the Gophers in 2013-14. "He's pretty big in Minnesota right now."
While all of these comparisons are nice, McDonagh is a one-of-a-kind defenseman. The parallels between Skjei and McDonagh should be taken with some consideration, even though Skjei has the same strengths (speed, skating ability and awareness).
He is a decent two-way defender with a booming point shot, but he still needs to prove himself professionally before the comparisons will be accurate.
However, it should be noted that these comparisons have been made after only two NCAA seasons. Skjei is in a great spot to show his potential this year, as he will likely be on the Gophers' top defensive pairing.
This opportunity will allow Skjei to face some tougher competition, play more minutes and ensure that his body is NHL-ready. In previous years, Skjei was further down the Gophers' depth chart. This year, he will be the man on the back end.
Right now, the Rangers have to be excited that their blue-line prospect is spending another year to develop his game.
Defensemen usually take longer to mature than their forward counterparts because of all their positional responsibilities, and a player can never hurt their development by playing an extra season in the NCAA.
It worked for McDonagh and Chris Kreider, and the Blueshirts are hoping the same will apply to Skjei. His stock has grown tremendously since being selected in 2012, and it will be interesting to see where he stands after the upcoming season.
A strong showing could lead to him signing his entry-level contract at the conclusion of his NCAA season, which could give the Rangers defense a huge boost depending on how things look in early 2015.
At his full potential, he could be a bona fide second-pairing defender, and his maturation and development as a left-handed defender could make the prospect of not re-signing Marc Staal a little easier to stomach.
At the moment, the Rangers have a player they feel is NHL-ready. After another year of development, he could be a favorite to land a roster spot heading into the 2015-16 NHL season.
It is too early to tell what will happen, but Blueshirt fans should keep tabs on this special prospect as the season gets underway in the coming months.
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