Jeff Skinner was the center of all trade rumors for the Carolina Hurricanes this summer. He was coming off the worst season of his young career and was about to enter the first year of a new six-year, $34.4 mil. contract. At first glance, it looked like Skinner was a player on the decline and the Hurricanes should consider trading him to fill other needs. Factor in his injury history and the fact that the Canes are already spending a lot of money on their top-six and trading Skinner looked like a reasonable argument. Only if you ignore a few key points.
First of all, we're talking about a player who turned 21 only last May. Yes, his career got off to a great start with a 30-goal season and the Calder Trophy on his mantle, but it's silly to think that is the best we'll see from Skinner. The truth about Skinner's rookie year is that he had a lot of things go his way and that brings us to our next point, shooting luck. All players are prone to this and Skinner reaped the benefits of it in his rookie season. Unfortunately, regression kicked in the following year and he scored at a reasonable 25-26 goal pace. It got even worse the following year and he ended up scoring only 13 goals in 42 games. That would still give him about 24-25 in a full 82 games, but it was a major step back from what most had expected from him. However, last season was probably a major outlier in Skinner's career and it's doubtful that he'll put up those numbers again.
Last year was just a perfect storm of bad luck for Skinner, posting a career low shooting percentage (8.2%), on-ice shooting percentage (5.04%) and on-ice save percentage (.890) and with how talented he is, it just seemed highly unlikely that he would have another year like that. When you consider that those three factors are also out of his control, it made the idea of Skinner having a comeback very believable. This is something I harped on over the off-season and so far, that prediction has come true.
Skinner now leads the Hurricanes in goals with 14 and is seven behind Eric Staal in points with 23. He also missed 13 games with an injury, so he is scoring at a higher point-per-game pace than the rest of the team. Most of this has come after he returned from his injury, as 10 of his goals were scored in the month of December and has been on a tear over the last couple of weeks. They say most players get their goals in bunches, so is Skinner prone to cool off or will he continue this torrid pace for the rest of the year? After the jump, we'll dive into that question and look at how Skinner has progressed as an offensive player since his rookie season.
What we saw from Skinner last season was probably an aberration, as it is unlikely for him to shoot that low for the rest of his career. However, what he has done over the last month or so is likely an aberration, too. He is currently shooting at 20.8% and there are very few players who can sustain that kind of shooting percentage over a full year. I know that Skinner was touted as one of the "best pure goal-scorers" of his draft class, but he has never been able to shoot at this rate even in his rookie season. He did have hot streaks, though and his current shooting percentage spike is actually lower than some of his high-points in 2010-11.
All players go through hot & cold streaks and Skinner is one fire right now. There were times during his rookie season where he scored at a higher rate but his current hot streak is one of the best he has had in about two years. There's a pretty good chance that he will cool down relatively soon, but one thing Skinner has going in his favor is that he shoots the puck a lot, so much that his shots per 60 minutes rate is among the best in the NHL. He may not score at this rate, but he will at least be creating chances and opening up opportunities for his teammates by creating rebounds. That alone makes him valuable and it's something he was very good at least year, even if he wasn't seeing any reward for it.
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The term "offense" is usually only attributed to goals & points in the NHL, but getting shots on goal and keeping play in the offensive zone is just as important. Skinner has been excellent in both of these areas over his career and is seeing more results for it this season. He only started shooting the puck at an incredibly high rate in 2011-12 and has only gotten better over his career. Bad luck was the main reason why he wasn't scoring as much last season.
Some might attribute to him not going to the dirty areas and shooting further away from the net, but I don't think him shooting 1.9 feet closer to the goal has that much of an impact. Plus, Skinner takes a lot of shots in general, so he is going to have plenty that are from the blue-line or a bad angle because of that. He still creates plenty of scoring chances despite that and is a threat to score whenever he is on the ice. His two-way game still has a lot of room for improvement, but as an offensive player, Skinner has been easily the best on the Hurricanes this year and hanging onto him was a smart move.