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Gophers' Brady Skjei forgoes senior year to sign with New York Rangers

Matt Christians

Minnesota junior defenseman Brady Skjei has signed an NHL entry-level contract with the New York Rangers, forgoing his final season of eligibility with the Gophers.

"I have had the best three years of my life at the University of Minnesota, and I will always be proud to be a part of the Gopher Hockey program. I couldn't have asked for better teammates, coaches and fans," Skjei said in a statement released by the University.

A 2012 first round selection (28th overall) of the Rangers, Skjei had a goal and nine assists this past season as Minnesota won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Big Ten. The Gophers were bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by rival Minnesota Duluth, ending the team's season.

Skjei, listed at 6'3", 206 lbs, is a product of Lakeville North High School and spent two seasons with the US National Team Development Program (NTDP). He also participated in the 2014 World Junior Championships. Skjei is a solid defenseman who projects as more of a shutdown defender at the next level. Admittedly focusing more on his defense and stopping the best opposing forwards than his offense, Skjei did get some power play time this season. He had the green light at other times.

"I've been snakebit for a long time now," said Skjei, who is on Minnesota's top PK unit, after hitting two posts in a 3-0 win over Ohio State on March 20th. "Hopefully they start coming in soon. I think my offensive game has definitely improved and am getting more and more confident there."

The 21 year-old was twice injured this season, but was counted upon for heavy minutes down the stretch. Spending most of the year paired with freshman Ryan Collins, the junior defenseman was in a leadership role after being the young player in a pairing his first two seasons.

SB Nation College Hockey had Skjei listed as the 13th best NHL prospect playing college hockey in 2014-15.

"Brady had a terrific career here at the University of Minnesota, helping us earn three regular-season titles, a playoff title and three NCAA tournament berths," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "He has been a great program guy - a guy who always put the team first - and we look forward to seeing him continue to develop as a professional player."

Skjei will report to the Hartford Wolfpack, the AHL affiliate of the Rangers, immediately to finish out the season. He's the first University of Minnesota early departure.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.

SB Nation College Hockey's Nathan Wells contributed to this report.