A few days ago, I mentioned that Justin Faulk was one of the two players in the Hurricanes system who was able to jump straight into the NHL at a very young age. The other Carolina player who was able to do that was obviously Jeff Skinner as he has already established himself as one of the team's top three forwards and arguably their most talented goal-scorer despite being with the team for only two years. What is even more unbelievable is that he has done all of this before his 20th birthday, which has made a lot of fans excited about what other feats he can accomplish in his career.
It's hard not to get people excited when you have a 31-goal campaign and take home the Calder Trophy in your rookie season like Skinner did, so you can see why there is so much hype for him in the Carolinas right now. With that comes high expectations and I think everyone knew that it was going to be hard for Skinner to follow up on his incredible rookie season for a number of reasons. The first of which being that Skinner is still only a kid and is still learning the ropes of the NHL but another reason is that Skinner had a lot of things go his way in his rookie year. By that, I mean that he was very fortunate in terms of shooting percentage/luck.
Skinner scored on 14.4% of the shots he took in his rookie season and the Hurricanes, as a team, were shooting at about 11% at even strength when he was on the ice that year, too. Some might attribute Skinner's shooting percentage to his terrific goal-scoring talent but the team wasn't going to continue shooting at such a high rate, so it was reasonable to predict Skinner's point total take a turn downward last season, which is exactly what happened. Skinner saw his personal shooting percentage plummet from 14.4% to 9.5% last season and the Hurricanes shot at only 9.28% at even strength when Skinner was on the ice, a significant drop from the 10.97% they shot at the year before. As a result, Skinner ended up with only 20 goals and 44 points in 64 games. There were some who consider Skinner's sophomore campaign a disappointment because of the underwhelming point boxcar numbers, but was it really a disappointment or just the percentages not going in his favor? A closer look at Skinner's season shows that it is probably the latter because there is evidence showing that Skinner was able to build off his rookie year and he actually improved on it in a number of ways.
Everyone knows that Skinner is a talented goal-scorer and he showed that in his rookie season, but one thing I wanted to see last year was him becoming a stronger territorial player. Even the most talented goal-scorers have difficulty at driving possession and showing the ability to carry a line in terms of driving the play forward, but Skinner was able to do exactly that last season. After barely breaking even in shot differential and being underwater in scoring chances in his rookie season, Skinner became the team's best forward in terms of relative corsi, even strength scoring chance percentage and scoring chance differential. All of which are positive signs for Skinner going forward because him being able to carry the mail at even strength and push the play forward means that he will likely be an even more effective offensive player in years to come. He was playing soft minutes but he is fine in that kind of role for now since the Hurricanes have (or "had" I should say) other players on the roster who could handle the heavier assignments. If Skinner continues to win the possession battle at even strength, it's very likely that his boxcar numbers will start to improve very soon.
The most important thing to remember about Skinner's sophomore season is that whenever he was on the ice, scoring chances were going in Carolina's favor. Almost every Carolina player saw their scoring chance percentage at even strength increase whenever they got to play on a line with him, which speaks highly of his ability to carry a line. One of the main reasons why Skinner is able to drive possession at a high rate is because he shoots the puck more often than almost anyone else on the team.
Carolina Hurricanes Shots per 60 minutes
Skinner is able to get the puck on net at a very high rate and the amount of offense he generates is even more impressive when you factor in his age. He has managed to be one of the team's best offensive players despite being a teenager for his first two seasons in the NHL. Our look at shot locations yesterday also showed that most of the shots he recorded were quality scoring chances, so he wasn't firing blanks. The same goes for his performance on the powerplay.
Skinner's ability to generate a high amount of shots is a good thing regardless because it means the Hurricanes have the puck in the opponent's end more times than not and are able to keep it there for the most part. He is a machine when it comes to creating offense and that is something that is going to benefit the Hurricanes for a long time as the Hurricanes have him locked up for most of his prime years.
With all that being said, there have been some concerns about Skinner that have popped up over the last year or so. He isn't the best player in his own zone, which is expected because he is primarily an offensive weapon and not an all-around player. He could be one some day, but his play isn't quite there yet and that is reflected by Paul Maurice and Kirk Muller's use of him at even strength. Personally, I don't worry much about Skinner's defensive flaws since that isn't his game and he doesn't need to be an all-around player at this moment in time.
What I am worried about is how he has been taken advantage of by bigger players on the opposing team. Skinner isn't a physical player by any means and he is small compared to other players and it has led to him taking some punishing hits by larger defensemen and he ended up suffering a concussion as a result of one of these blows. This is something that neither Skinner or the Hurricanes have much control over because there isn't much you can do to stop bigger players from delivering huge hits that sometimes result in injuries. Having Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton on the Bruins didn't stop Marc Savard from being taken out by Matt Cooke a few years ago and signing an enforcer isn't going to prevent Skinner from getting hurt in the future. Unless you take hitting out of the game, things like this are going to continue.
On a related note, another thing Skinner has been criticized for is his attitude. He does some things between the whistles that I'm not too proud of and some teams may have taken notice of this and targeted him for that reason. The fact that he embellishes a lot probably gets under the skin of opposing teams, as well. A couple of his actions have also gotten the notice of the league's disciplinary office and have even gotten him suspended on one occasion. Some might think that Skinner's attitude problem could escalate into a bigger issue soon but it's important to remember what I said earlier; Skinner is still just a kid. Give him one or two more years in the league and he will learn to cut out the non-sense and play with a cooler head.
As for him embellishing, this isn't much of a problem for the Hurricanes because Skinner draws a lot of penalties for exactly that reason and it works to the Hurricanes advantage. Drawing penalties is somewhat of an underrated skill and it's something that Skinner doesn't get enough credit for because he is one of the best players in the league at doing this. Maybe not a lot of people notice this because the Hurricanes powerplay hasn't been great the last few years, but Skinner gives the team a huge advantage by drawing at least two penalties per 60 minutes, and I'm willing to bet that he embellishes on most of the calls. This "skill" makes Skinner one of those player who you love if he is on your team, but hate if you're a fan of a rival club, similar to Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings.
With Jeff Skinner, it isn't all about goals and points as he was able to have an outstanding sophomore year in my eyes despite having a lower point total than he did the previous year. Before his injury, he was the team's best forward and looked stronger in a lot of areas compared to his rookie year. He is only 20 years old and is already a machine when it comes to creating offense and generating scoring chances, so all the Hurricanes can do now is sit back and look forward to how he develops throughout the remainder of his contract. I can already tell you that it's going to be a lot of fun to witness.