Each player who wears an ‘A’ on his chest for the Carolina Hurricanes roster is 28 years old or younger. Two of those players, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask, are wearing letters for the first time, and so far, the bold decision to go young in leadership roles is bearing significant fruit.
Rask first shot to prominence after coming into the lineup following Jordan Staal’s broken leg in 2014-15. The 2nd round selection in 2011 proved he was NHL ready, with 11 goals and 22 assists totaling 33 points in 80 games. Last season, Rask’s 48 point performance not only showcased his development, but it earned him a spot on Sports Illustrated’s list of each team’s number one center.
From day one Rask has always led by example on the ice. Despite rarely flashing a smile, his calmness on the ice - and being cool as a cucumber - flaunts a confident state of mind. He has become effective as a two-way center at an increasingly quick pace, and isn’t afraid to show grit.
It’s not always easy to have chemistry with players. Leaders like Ron Francis, Wayne Gretzky, and Sidney Crosby have such a high hockey IQ that they’re able to have chemistry with almost anyone. Their ability to read the game allows them to consistently make their teammates better. While it’s certainly nowhere near the level of the very top players, Rask has shown that ability as well, with more than 20 assists in his first two seasons and six through just eight games this year.
He also has showcased finesse and finishing ability with a power-forward playing style reminiscent of Peter Forsberg.
Although he only serves as an alternate captain on the road, his ability to finish like he did last season against Colorado in overtime only further embodies why he was chosen for that role. Rask now has points in 8 straight games, second longest in franchise history, and is second on the team with 10 points, one behind his linemate Skinner.
Skinner, meanwhile, has been rather inconsistent since his outstanding Calder-winning rookie season. He’s battled multiple head injuries and received criticism for not duplicating the playing style of his Calder Trophy-winning year. Still only 24 years old, yet the second-longest tenured player on the team behind Cam Ward, Skinner was expected to take on more responsibilities.
Skinner’s consistency really began to show after Eric Staal left at the trade deadline. He played his first full 82-game season since his rookie year, and led the team with 28 goals and 51 points.
Friday’s two-goal game against the New York Rangers made Skinner the youngest active NHL player with 20 or more multi-goal games. If the goals don’t do it for you, he’s beginning to look a bit like Pavel Datsyuk defensively. His 77 takeaways last season placed second in the league.
Skinner’s play so far this season has seen him competing every night and getting chances almost every time he steps on the ice.
He’s become much more aggressive in the dirty areas, compared to times earlier in his career where he was too afraid to hang on to the puck in fear of getting hit. That is no longer an issue. His power skating and strength on the puck have gotten him into many opportune positions to score, and his 35 shots on goal lead the team by a wide margin.
The leadership of Skinner and Rask on the ice has manifested itself on offense. A far cry from the team that finished 27th in scoring last year, the Hurricanes are 12th in the league in goals for and total 3 goals per game, compared to last years’ 2.39. One of the biggest question marks going into this season was if the Hurricanes had enough scoring threats. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can draft Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask.