This is the 2nd in my "Expectations" series. As with the first, we will look at how current Canes players will fit into this year's lineup, who might be their most common linemates, and what type of production we are expecting from them in the 2012/2013 season.
With the recent news of Jim Rutherford locking up Jeff Skinner for the next 7 seasons, I thought Jeff would be a natural choice for the next "Expectations" article. The 20 year old will be entering the 3rd and final year of his entry-level contract and with this extension signing, he will have quite a bit of pressure on his young shoulders. He was absolutely brilliant his rookie season, netting 31 goals and 64 points. He was the team's 2nd leading scorer, a plus player, and he walked away with the Calder Memorial Trophy. There really isn't a whole lot more you could ask of from an 18 year old rookie. His 2nd season started off well, as he was a PPG player through his first 14 games, but was also a -7 in that time. The Hurricanes and particularly Eric Staal were struggling and Skinner seemed to try to shoulder the load. But this might not have been the best thing for the young superstar, as he started trying to do everything by himself. Then in December in Edmonton, he suffered a concussion that caused him to miss 16 games. When he came back, his demeanor and his game seemed to change a bit. After returning from his concussion, Skinner accumulated 40 of his 56 PIMs and he was also suspended for 2 games due to a kicking incident. While his production from year one did take a step back, Skinner still had a very respectable sophomore season. But it is a new year and he has a new contract to live up to now, so what do you EXPECT from Jeff Skinner this season?
With the Canes increased top 6 talent level, it almost appears that they could roll "2 1st lines" depending on how they set them up. The one thing that seems almost certain though is the Skinner and Eric will be on separate lines. During his brief time here, it appears that Skinner has developed some chemistry with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. And that could be his linemates again this season. Jussi is the type of player that can score, but prefers to dish the puck. Skinner likes to shoot and Jussi has a way of finding him. Ruutu is a team player and will do whatever is asked of him. When he is at his best, he is forechecking, creating space for his teammates, and disrupting opposing goalies. And both of these guys play defensively responsible, so they help to make up for Skinner's biggest weakness. But we've all seen this grouping, it's good, but it isn't great. So maybe Kirk Muller will change it up some this season. The line that I would like to see and I think would work really well is a Skinner/JStaal/Ruutu line. Jordan centering Skinner and Ruutu takes the skill level and physicality up a notch. While Jussi seems to be the better passer, Jordan has more scoring ability. Jordan is also the superior defensive forward and his size & style of play (along with Ruutu) would help create more space for the creative Jeff Skinner to work his magic. These two guys could probably help protect Skinner a lot more without giving up skill for toughness. You would also have to expect that all 3 guys should be 20+ goal scorers and probably plus players.
Now when it comes to the PP, there are really so many options this year, its just unbelievable. Muller could go with a skill PP unit and put Skinner/EStaal/Semin out there. Three proven 30 goal scorers (2 have gotten to 40 goals) that know how to score. The opposing team would already be down a man, so how do you cover these individuals? And while I'm sure many different combinations will be tried, my thought does back to something familiar. While I think Skinner should be paired with JStaal and Ruutu 5 on 5, I think Jussi should return to the line for the PP. These guys obviously have some chemistry and would be a balanced group, so leave it. Ruutu would play the net presence, Jussi the distributor, and leave Skinner to what he does best, shooting the puck. Imagine one PP unit of EStaal/JStaal/Semin, if you stop that, you think you're doing pretty good. But then the Canes roll out Skinner/Jokinen/Ruutu and it is just as deadly, just different. There are obviously other PP combinations, but this is the one I would at least start off with.
Expected Point Production
Like I mentioned earlier, Skinner had a fantastic rookie season. He had 31 goals, 32 assists, was a +3, and averaged 0.77 PPG. Last season he only played in 64 games, he scored 20 goals, had 44 points, was a -8, and averaged 0.69 PPG. So based on his average, if he would have played a full 82 games, he would have finished with 25 goals and 57 points. That would have led the team in goals and been 2nd in points. If you take Skinner's averages over his first 2 seasons and assume he will play a full season this upcoming year, then Skinner should put up 28 goals and 32 assists for 60 points. But Jeff's concussion, his size, and his style of play will always raise concerns. Going into those dirty areas against much bigger players could result in another concussion, so to a point, he must learn how to adjust his style. But I do believe that with linemates like Jordan and Ruutu, space will be created and he will have some big, tough linemates to help protect him from players taking too many cheap shots. Add to that the skill level the Canes added this summer and the possible lesser defensive pairings Skinner's line might see as a result of Eric's line getting stronger and Skinner could be in for a monster year.
And if the Canes move toward a more offensive style that Muller seems to be putting into place, Skinner should be a guy that would benefit from that. He has 2 NHL seasons under his belt now and he doesn't have to worry about playing for a new contract since that is already signed. The Canes "Golden Child" is set up to have a huge season. Let's just hope that smile from his rookie season returns this year. My expectations for Skinner are 80 games played, 33 goals, 35 assists, 68 points, and a + or Even player. But what do you think? What goal & point range do you think Skinner will achieve for the Canes this season?