Weight: 193 lbs.
Drafted: 1st Round, 2010 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 2
There isn't much to say about Jeff Skinner that I haven't already gone over in the past few months. Yes, his scoring numbers have declined since his rookie year and his big numbers that year were due to him getting a lot of bounces. Things have normalized for him since then and his boxcar numbers have crashed down to Earth. The funny thing is that even after taking regression into consideration, Skinner's performance with the Hurricanes is still mightily impressive and something a lot of 21 year olds can only dream of.
In the history of the NHL, there have been only 26 players who scored more goals than Skinner prior to their 21st birthday and only 37 have put up more points. Skinner's production might be "declining," but his goal-per-game rate would have him scoring at least 20 in his first three seasons in the NHL and have him posting 40+ points in addition to that. We've gone over a lot of players his age who struggle to score or make the league all together, but Skinner has managed to do both before he could legally drink alcohol in the United States. A player this good so early in his career is extremely rare to find.
So why are there so many questions and concerns surrounding Carolina's young star? Well, as I said earlier, part of it is due to Skinner's point totals declining in the last two seasons. Skinner had an amazing rookie season where a number of things went right for him (cushy assignments, high shooting percentage) and it was going to be hard for him to repeat that year no matter what. He had much more reasonable results the following season and continued to regress the following season. However, a lot of what went wrong for Skinner was outside of his control, as the Hurricanes posted an abysmal shooting percentage with him on the ice and Skinner himself also had a career low shooting percentage.
With Skinner having only 188 games played, it's tough to get a read on what his "true talent" level is, but I would wager to say that he is about a 8-11% shooter given his brief career numbers. Although, it could be lower because Skinner takes more shots than any other player on the team and that's not a bad thing. Skinner's goal totals might be declining, but he was creating chances at a higher rate than almost any other Carolina forward last year, and that includes all three members of the first line. He just wasn't seeing much of a reward for it and I have a feeling that will change as soon as next season. As I have said many times before, it's hard to create as much offense as Skinner does without getting rewarded for it, so that is why I think Skinner is due for a big year. Whether that comes in the form of goals or assists is another story.
Another positive that comes with Skinner being able to create so much offense is that it means the Hurricanes are usually the team controlling the play when he is on the ice. Skinner has been able to do this for his entire career and although he was helped by easy territorial assignments in his first two seasons, he really took a step forward in this department last year. Skinner's even strength shot differential was one of the highest among Carolina forwards and this was with him playing a tough-minute role alongside Jordan Staal. In other words, Skinner was usually playing against the opposition's best forwards and those players spent the majority of their time defending while the Hurricanes were on the attack. It may have not resulted in much last season, but it should pay off enormously for Carolina in the long-run. If these two stay together, that is.
Skinner's creativity and puck-handling is hard to replace, so if the rumors of him being shopped around are true, it would be wise for the Hurricanes to not sell low on him because of his "bad" counting stats. He had a bigger role in the neutral zone than anyone else on the team last year, so that should give you an idea of how much he contributes to the team's territorial play. That alone will be hard to replicate, but one downside that comes with Skinner handling the puck so much is that he is usually on the receiving end of big hits, a couple of which have injured him.
Learning to protect yourself is part of the game and this has probably been the slowest part of Skinner's development. Some of it isn't his fault, as Skinner is the primary puck-carrier on his line and most guys on the opposing team are going to target him based on that alone. However, Skinner always has his feet moving and often doesn't brace himself when receiving a hit because he is trying to draw a penalty. He also has some moments where he fails to keep his head up and gets knocked into next week as a result. This is something a lot of young players struggle with, but Skinner's lack of size probably doesn't help him here.
That being said, Skinner managed to stay healthy for most of last season even after taking a few big hits but there's still the concern that he might be another hit away from a serious injury because we've seen concussion issues doom a lot of talented players before. Skinner may grow bigger as he gets into his mid-20' but until then, he will need to do a better job of protecting himself because there are going to be players targeting him and there's not much he or the Hurricanes can do about it.
Outside of that, Skinner is a phenomenal player whose best years are only ahead of him. It's rare to find a player with his skill and it's even more difficult to find a player of similar age with a resume like his. There was speculation of him being traded all summer but as of right now, it doesn't look like he is going anywhere and that's probably the best move long-term. There are a lot of signs which indicate that Skinner will have a "rebound" campaign next year and the Canes will be glad they kept him.