When Eric Staal left the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the trade deadline last season, it left a void of leadership. After his exceptional start to the season in 2015-16, many believed Justin Faulk would take the reins as the new captain. However, his untimely injury changed everything and shifted the focus to Jeff Skinner.
Once Staal departed and Faulk was injured, Skinner played his best hockey of the season and has continued his incredible production since. He finished 2015-16 with 16 points in 19 games. Skinner currently leads the Hurricanes across the board with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points, a pace of just under a point per game.
In addition to leading the team in the scoring column, he is capable of leading the team out on the ice. He leads the team in shots with 106, far ahead of Faulk who has 78. Skinner gets chances and gets to the net. Gone are the days where he avoided hits due to concussion issues. He’s all in on every play.
He’s also developed a vocal side to him, which he displayed at training camp.
"He was working extremely hard and calling guys out when they weren't doing things the right way," said Ron Francis of Skinner. "We felt he had grown into the leadership role. He's not afraid to point out if a guy cuts a route [during a drill] or cheats on something.”
His strength on the puck is one reason why he is so vibrant. (Thanks, figure skating!) There aren’t many shifts where Skinner goes unnoticed whether it’s a scoring opportunity, making a nice play, or just being so great with the puck all eyes are on the 24-year-old winger.
"He’s a goal-scorer, right?” head coach Bill Peters said. “It’s hard to score in the NHL and he’s a guy where the puck follows him around. He’s elusive, hungry to score – there’s a lot to like about his game.”
Sure, Skinner puts up points, but there are some nights where it’s Skinner and the Skinner-ets. His determination on the ice is a drive that simply hasn’t been there in recent years and is one of the many reasons he’s a positive influence on the young talent.
“The way he handles himself, the way he trains, the way he eats…we make fun of him because he’s one of a kind,” Cam Ward says of Skinner. “He’s always had a lot of skill and a knack in front of the ice, but what has impressed me is that he’s playing a great two-way game.”
Skinner has also been able to improve his two-way game as well finishing second in the league in takeaways last season with 77 and is currently in second with 31. He doesn’t have to body up other players to get the puck away; he’s just that good.
At this pace Skinner is on his way to career numbers. But what’s more impressive is how mature he’s become on the ice and how he’s changed the way he’s played the game. He’s been a staple of this franchise, and despite past trade rumors, is one of the best this organization has seen.
Rod Brind’Amour wasn’t always the best player on the ice, but he had a determination to win and was always a presence on the ice which made him a great leader. You can see some of that with Skinner, although he has some skill on Brind’Amour.
Skinner also has that finesse with the puck that emulates the great Ron Francis. Although Francis was more of a playmaker in his days, Skinner’s natural goal scoring ability helps make him a better playmaker too.
The winds are changing and at 24 years old, Jeff Skinner has taken a firm grasp of this Hurricanes team and have helped give them an opportunity to be in every game they play. When it’s time to dish out the ‘C’, Skinner should be the one who gets it.