Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 08/10/10 at 11:28 PM ET
Jeff Skinner, who was drafted by the Hurricanes in the first round of this summer’s Entry Draft, has been turning heads all summer long. He had a good showing at the prospect camp in July, he had a good camp at Team Canada’s evaluation camp in preparation for the World Junior tournament. His remarkable shootout goal in practice there will be on highlight reels, as will his dazzling 50th goal for Kitchener in the OHL last season.
Whether he makes the Canes this fall or at some point in the near future remains to be seen, but for now, he’s been receiving high praise from NHL veterans, including a favorable comparison to Sidney Crosby.
The first time I saw Jeff I said, ‘Holy smoke, he looks just like Sidney Crosby. It’s freaky how comparable they are. Jeff has the same frame as Sidney. Sidney Crosby is more explosive. But Jeff will get there. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player for the Hurricanes for a long time.
I’m sure that it wasn’t the physical appearance, but the skating and playing style that’s alluded to here. The guy who delivered that praise? Gary Roberts. He’s no stranger to Sidney Crosby, and as a guy who played 21 seasons in the NHL, he knows a good player when he sees one. Read the full article from yesterday’s News and Observer here. Skinner has been conditioning with Roberts, who is training 17 young players including Steven Stamkos.
In case you missed the 50th goal, here’s the video:
Skinner didn’t have nearly as much pre-draft fanfare as Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, but he scored more goals than each of them, and he was an absolute beast in the playoffs, putting up 20 goals and 13 assists in 20 games.
It’s evident from his draft day dealings with the media, that he’s completely at ease and from the looks of the photos and video, his attitude is exactly what coaches and teammates want. I haven’t yet seen this player in person, but everything that I’ve read and seen suggests that there’s nothing not to like about him.
Gary Roberts’ praise of Skinner didn’t stop at the Crosby comparison. He said that Skinner’s fitness level and conditioning habits are unexpected for someone 18 years old. His body fat percentage is very low, but not to the point of being too lean for his own good.
He’s as lean as you can be, but you don’t want to be too lean, like bodybuilders. You need enough fat to protect yourself and give you that energy late in games.
With that quote in mind, watch the 50th goal video again. Less than a minute remaining in the third period, and he had the strength and energy to pick the pocket of one player, then blow past #24 in white, control the bouncing puck on choppy ice and finish the play while the beaten player desperately tried to haul him down. The more I watch that clip, the more I’m impressed by the skill of Jeff Skinner.
It’s going to be a really interesting training camp in September as he and Riley Nash compete for a starting position on the big team. In Nash’s case, Charlotte is an option, but because Skinner is just 18 years old, the options are Raleigh or back to Kitchener. He can, as Zach Boychuk did, play a few games on the big team before they have to make the ultimate decision. The way I understand it, a player from junior hockey can play in up to nine NHL games before his pro contract kicks in. (In Skinner’s case, no contract has been signed yet). But if they send him back to the juniors, he has to stay there until Kitchener’s season is over. Boychuk played in two games to start the 2008-09 season and was returned to Lethbridge.
Skinner did well at the Team Canada u-20 evaluation camp, but he’s hoping that he doesn’t make that team. It’s not that he doesn’t want to represent his country. It’s that his real goal is to make the NHL, and making the u-20 team would mean that he did not make the NHL.
Whether it’s this fall or next, Canes fans should expect big things from the young player. The Kitchener Rangers would obviously love to have him for one more season, but there’s a wide opening at third line center on the roster in Raleigh. Unless the Hurricanes make a surprising UFA acquisition, the position is for the better of Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner.
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David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.