Well, it finally happened. After months of serious trade rumors, Jeff Skinner has finally been shipped out to the Buffalo Sabres. In return the Hurricanes will receive 2016 3rd round selection Cliff Pu, a 2019 second round pick, as well as a 2020 third round and sixth round pick.
Despite the writing being on the wall for Skinner this trade still came as a shock to me. Based on the light return as well as rumblings from the franchise, it seems clear that the front office wasn’t interested in seeing Skinner in a Hurricanes jersey next season. Here in Carolina we will miss his big personality around the club and his unique figure skating influenced playing style. But perhaps his pure ability to score goals will be missed the most.
Jeff Skinner was selected 7th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. Coming off a 50-goal performance in the OHL regular season with the Kitchener Rangers, he was touted as the best pure goal scorer in his draft class who wasn’t named Taylor Hall. He joined the ranks of one of the hottest forward prospect pools in hockey with the likes of Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, and Drayson Bowman.
OK, so maybe Skinner was the only NHL level forward in that group, but he embraced the pressure of being the franchise’s most promising youngster. He made the team out of training camp — something that Jim Rutherford hinted at before Skinner was even selected that summer — and immediately took the league by storm.
His first goal, scored in his sixth NHL game, was actually a pretty good indicator of his future in Carolina. A slapshot from Anton Babchuk fought off by Jonathan Bernier, Skinner found it it front of the net and shoveled the puck in on his backhand. This franchise will remember Jeff Skinner for his ability to score beautiful goals, but we shouldn’t forget his knack for finding the back of the net off of second and third chance opportunities.
Skinner was certainly flying high in his rookie season. He came into the league and immediately found his calling as a goal scorer playing with Erik Cole. Skinner was a breath of fresh air in the Carolina market as a great, marketable youngster who attracted much attention from casual fans around Raleigh.
As the season carried into the all-star break, Skinner was sitting on 18 goals and 40 points, earning him a spot as an injury replacement in the All-Star Game, which happened to be in Raleigh. The youngest NHL player to ever participate in the game, he received much national media attention.
He would finish out his dynamite rookie season with 31 goals and 63 points on his way to a Calder Trophy.
His speech at the NHL awards in 2011 was completely emblematic of his young personality in the NHL. Soft-spoken and seemingly uncomfortable in the spotlight, he would nervously apologize to the crowd for taking so long in accepting his award.
His sophomore and junior season in the league brought on reduced production from the young sniper, as he battled some injuries as well as increased notoriety as a goal scorer from opposing teams. But he was never quite able to reproduce his lightning rookie performance.
Until the 2016-17 season.
For the final month of the season, no forward in hockey was better than Jeff Skinner. He generated 7.30 individual expected goals at 5-on-5 — good for best in the league. The closest player to him was Connor McDavid with 6.96, but after that the next closest players were Eric Staal and Rickard Rakell with 4.87. And he passed the eye test with flying colors. Skinner was on fire, scoring 13 goals at even strength in just one month, three more than the second best scorer in the league in that stretch.
This is the Jeff Skinner that we will miss most. When his game is on everyone in the building knows it, and he’ll score some truly incredible goals. Here’s just one example of his unbelievable play during that stretch in the spring of 2017.
His overtime heroics here kept the Hurricanes’ streak towards the playoffs alive, moving them to 9-0-4 and a 13 game point streak. With all that’s been said about Skinner and this hockey team over the last few months, no one can deny his gumption and leadership over this stretch. The final month of the 2016-17 season, and that overtime game in particular, was the brightest this Hurricanes team has shined in years.
And it was led by Jeff Skinner, the most electric goal scorer the franchise has ever seen.