Continuing with our 2011-12 player projections, we move onto Jeff Skinner. He had a wonderful rookie season where he recorded 31 goals, 63 points and took home the Calder Trophy for his efforts. The general idea among fans is that he is only going to get better, build on his strong rookie campaign and shatter his point total from this year. In theory, yes but there’s some things you have to consider about Skinner’s 2010-11 season before we start talking about him putting up 80-something points.
I’ve already talked about some details of Skinner’s rookie season a little bit and how he benefited from soft ice-time and had one of the highest shooting percentages among forwards. I do not have a problem with him playing soft minutes because he is a pure goal scorer and a very young player, so it makes sense to give him favorable zone starts, especially when you have other forwards on the team capable of playing the toughs. He took advantage of those soft minutes and that’s likely going to continue into next season but his 14.4 shooting percentage is another story.
The league average shooting percentage is somewhere around 8 or 9 percent and Skinner shot well above that mark last season so he is prone to a regression in that area. Skinner’s a special kind of talent so it’s possible that he may continue to shoot above the league average for a little longer before regression sets in but it’s going to eventually. He was pegged as “the best pure goal scorer” in the 2009 NHL Draft, so maybe his shooting percentage will stay high for another year. This information is only concerning his goal total, though. His point total is also prone to regression because Carolina, as a team, shot at a higher rate with Skinner on the ice. If his shooting percentage doesn’t go down, that very high on-ice shooting percentage will.
The quality of Skinner’s teammates doesn’t concern me much because his most frequent linemates are still on the team and so are the ones whom he had the most success with. His line with Jokinen and Ruutu was one of the most successful last season in terms of generating chances and should stay that way if they are used correctly. Then you factor in him getting more time on the first powerplay unit with Eric Staal and that should produce some confidence in what Skinner can do this season. Some of that goes away when you examine his underlying numbers, unfortunately.
Skinner played against middling competition compared to his teammates and while his corsi metrics look pretty decent, he put up those numbers getting the softest zone starts on the team. Using the balanced corsi metric (which factors in zone starts), Skinner ends up looking pretty mediocre. However, all this really means is that he was not as great as his point total indicates, which is expected for an 18 year old kid playing top-six minutes in the NHL. No player at that young of an age can be expected to dominate in all phases of the game unless they are a truly elite talent. His possession numbers will likely improve next season as he progresses so I am not worried about that. This does NOT mean that I expect him to have more goals than next year. There’s a very good chance that he looks even better next season and begins to dominate territorially but falls victim to a weak shooting percentage and only scores 25 goals. This is why I hate the term “Sophomore Slump” so much.
Here we’re looking for forwards who entered the league at 18, played a full season and had a relative amount of success. It’s VERY hard to do a comparable for a player like Skinner because he only has one year of experience and it’s tough to determine what his “real” shooting percentage will be down the road. There also aren’t that many players who enter the league at such a young age. I managed to find a few here but take them with a grain of salt.
Going by his comparables, the best we can hope for Skinner is something similar to Brian Bellows season when he was 19, which would be pretty amazing. The chances of it happening seem pretty slim, unfortunately.. The worst case scenario is a tie between Trevor Linden and Vincent Lecavalier’s seasons when they were in their second years. Both had very productive years objectively and posted slightly worse numbers compared to their rookie seasons. A season similar to those two seems more likely for Skinner given what we know about shooting percentages.
I am not putting too much thought into the comparables for this one because it’s tough to find similar players when you are only judging one on a single season. However, I have put a lot of thought into the shooting percentages and underlying numbers for Skinner and I see that dropping, but not by a lot. He is likely going to get more ice time on the powerplay and his linemates from last year have not changed much, so I see him producing the same amount of offense as he did last season. If he takes on tougher zone starts then it’s a different story but it’s very tough to predict how that will go throughout a season. 30 goals does not seem out of the question but there’s a very good chance that it won’t happen while every other facet of his game improves.
Jeff Skinner Projection: