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NHL draft tracker: Brady Skjei, U.S. under-18 team

Brady Skjei is headed to the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season (Getty Images)Brady Skjei knows he needs to develop a mean streak.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers recruit is an enticing draft prospect since he is a good skating defenceman who moves exceedingly well at 6-foot-2¾ and an even 200 pounds. Skjei used those wheels well last season with the U.S. under-18 team in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he stabilized his game across the second half of the season while partnering with Seth Jones, who's on the shortlist to go No. 1 in next summer's draft. One puzzle piece Skjei still has to find is using his size effectively.

While he became a defenceman early on after a minor hockey coach told him good skaters play on the back end, he was typically "medium sized" until a growth spurt kicked in. He's hoping that being an 18-year-old next season in the NCAA against players four and five years older will help instill that in him.

"I want to be more physical, for sure," says Skjei (pronounced shea), a potential first-round choice on Friday who was 19th among North American skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting ranking. "I feel like each level I move up to, college and then the NHL, you need to be more physical. I'm a big enough guy, I'm not afraid to throw my weight around."

Skjei, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Lakeville, Minn., has deep family ties to the Golden Gophers. His grandfather, Stan Skjei, was a halfback and defensive back for the Minnesota football team in the 1960s and went on coach grid and basketball teams in the Twin Cities area. Brady Skjei was a multi-sport athlete, playing quarterback before foregoing slants and seam routes for skates and a stick.

"I think I'm a smooth-skating two-way defenceman who can play both sides of the rink and also power play and penalty kill," he says. "I'm looking forward to next year, I think we're going to have a really good team."

1. Going back to the very beginning of the season, what improvements did you focus on making?

"When I started out the season, I was trying to do a little too much with the puck. By the end of the year going toward the world under-18 championship, I kept it simple and had success and helped the team have success."

2. The NTDP has a great reputation, but how much did you gain from it this year because the other defencemen you're measuring yourself against included Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones, likely top NHL picks?

"First of all those two guys are great guys, good friends off the ice. It's nice you're playing against the top players in the country every day, practising against the best forwards. You can feel yourself getting better every day, especially in the weight room, getting bigger and stronger."

3. What teammate has had the greatest impact on you?

"Seth Jones. We were partners all year. Everyone knows the way he plays. I think he helped me a lot and I think I helped him."

4. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely, not necessarily to model yourself after but to pick up some subtleties of playing in the big league, stuff you know you'll have to do in order to stay there?

"I think I'm a Matt Carle type of player, two-way defenceman. Ryan McDonagh is another. All of the Minnesota defencemen, I try to play like. [Chicago Blackhawks defenceman and former Minnesota Wild first-rounder] Nick Leddy, I think is a really good skater. I actually played high school hockey against him in Minnesota and like the way he played."

5. What is something you like to do when you need to clear your head and unplug from hockey, say for a day during the summer? Please do not say golf.

"I was going to say golf. I'm a golfer. I have a cabin up in northern Minnesota, a bunch of my buddies like to go up and hang out and fish. It's a good spot. The walleye is pretty good in northern Minnesota."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet

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