Covering Jeff Skinner’s rookie season in the NHL was a treat for many reasons, but what I’ll always remember most about that year is the way he carried himself on the ice. At the tender age of 18, the Brampton, Ont., native boasted a veteran-esque hockey I.Q. right out of the gate—leading him to 31 goals in 2010-11, as well as an All Star bid and Calder Trophy honors.

This success spilled over into Skinner’s second year with the Canes: In his first 110 NHL contests, he went pointless in a four-game span just once. That kind of consistency is hard to find in most professional athletes; in teenagers, it’s nearly unheard of.

All these numbers and accolades got local fans excited for the future, and rightfully so. But they also created some unfair expectations. By that 110-game mark, many felt Skinner would avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and would only fight minor regression as time wore on. Of course, that would not be the case.

Two concussions—one suffered in 2011-12, the other in 2012-13—would derail Skinner’s production, leading to phases that saw him rack up more untimely penalties than goals. It seemed that, perhaps, the success he enjoyed early on could have been an aberration—and if not, perhaps injuries would mount and prevent him from reaching his potential.

These worries were compounded by Skinner’s output in the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign in which he amassed just 24 points (0.57 points per game). It was after this disappointing season when his six-year, $34 million contract extension kicked in, and naturally, Canes fans wondered what version of No. 53 they’d see as he aged.

Would it be the electric, productive forward who became the youngest Rookie of the Year in NHL history, or the one who seemed to lose his way?

Unquestionably, Skinner has become the former.

By the Numbers

In many respects, Skinner is the best player on the Hurricanes right now. He concluded 2013-14 first on his team with 33 goals second in points with 54—slightly behind Eric Staal (61), who has skated in eight more contests than Skinner.

When we dig deeper into the statistics, Skinner’s play only become more impressive. He finished the regular season 13th in the NHL in even strength goals per 60 minutes (1.149) among those who have skated at least 300 minutes in those situations—ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Sharp and just slightly behind the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

If we filter that list to only include even strength “close” situations—when the game is tied or within one goal in the first or second periods or tied in the third period—Skinner ranks eighth in the league in G/60 among those with 300-plus minutes of action. What this tells us is Skinner is one of the best in the league at lighting the lamp during the most crucial times.

He’s among some pretty elite company here:

# Player Name Team TOI G/60 EV Close
1 STAMKOS, STEVEN Tampa Bay 362:16:00 1.988
2 PERRY, COREY Anaheim 651:25:00 1.842
3 PACIORETTY, MAX Montreal 615:23:00 1.657
4 HELM, DARREN Detroit 310:15:00 1.536
5 NYQUIST, GUSTAV Detroit 468:49:00 1.536
6 SKINNER, JEFF Carolina 589:30:00 1.527
7 STEEN, ALEX St. Louis 558:52:00 1.503
8 BENN, JAMIE Dallas 666:08:00 1.441
9 PALMIERI, KYLE Anaheim 422:36:00 1.420
10 KESSEL, PHIL Toronto 816:01:00 1.397
11 SEGUIN, TYLER Dallas 694:55:00 1.381

 

To compliment his strong play at even strength are some good power play numbers: Skinner has scored 11 times on the PP in 2013-14, good for 12th in the league. That’s the same number of PPGs that Sidney Crosby, Seguin and Patrick Marleau put up—all of whom skated in at least nine more contests than Skinner.

Those 11 tallies account for more than one-quarter of Carolina’s goals on the man-advantage, which is 28th in the league (ahead of only Buffalo and Florida) and has been nothing short of abysmal. Take Skinner out of the equation, and the Canes PP could be historically bad.

It’s important to note that Skinner has created all this offense with a shooting percentage of 12 and an even strength S% of 9.74. If those figures were much higher—like in his rookie season, when his overall S% was 14.4—there’d be reason to believe his current production is not sustainable.

But right now Skinner’s S% tells an encouraging story: he’s getting the job done without an overabundance of luck.

Jeff-SkinnerIn fact, his PDO—a statistical proxy for luck—finished at 0.994 at even strength. Essentially, this means the hockey gods weren’t for or against him in the grand scheme of things.

Skinner’s possession stats aren’t great, and that can be attributed to a number of factors—namely his sub-par defense and Carolina’s knack for getting out-shot on a regular basis. Still, his CF%Rel (a version of Corsi that measures shot differential in comparison to one’s teammates) is in the black at around 0.7 percent, and one has to think his defense will improve with age. No red flags here.

It’s also worth noting that Skinner has played the majority of 2013-14 with less-than-ideal linemates. Until Muller recently placed him alongside rookie Elias Lindholm and Riley Nash, Skinner bounced around the depth chart, and all that tinkering hasn’t done much good. In Muller’s defense, he only has so much talent to work with.

Consider the difference in this respect between Skinner and some of the aforementioned stars: Seguin has Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin; Ovechkin has Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski; Kessel has James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak; Ryan Getzlaf has Corey Perry.

One can’t help but wonder how Skinner would fare with a strong supporting cast.

On Trade Rumors

There have been some talks this spring that the Canes would be open to the idea of parting ways with Skinner in the offseason, and that hasn’t exactly sat well with the Hurricane faithful. These rumblings became audible when Elliotte Friedman mentioned the topic in one of his “30 Thoughts” columns. At that point, it started to feel like a true possibility.

However, trading Skinner would a tremendous mistake unless a ludicrous offer came Carolina’s way. As TSN’s Bob McKenzie said on Monday in regards to maligned Jets forward Evander Kane, “You don’t move good hockey players and get equal value.”

What the Canes need are a few cornerstones to build around, and Skinner should absolutely be in that group. Maybe the coaches need to go, maybe management needs a new direction, but pure skill is something you should almost never cast away—especially when it comes at a good price.

Given all the evidence above, it’s clear that Skinner is poised to become one of the best young forwards in the NHL. And when you begin a rebuilding process, that kind of player is one you hold on to dearly.

All statistics obtained via ExtraSkater.com, behindthenet.ca and hockeyanalysis.com. 

About The Author

Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site's managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at ahirsh3@gmail.com.

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