Skinner Going to Carolina in his Mind

Jeff Skinner will play his first game in Carolina since being traded to the Buffalo Sabres on Aug. 2.

“It’s not just another game,” said Skinner yesterday after practice. “Technically, it’s another game on a schedule. It’s worth the same amount of points. But obviously, personally, I spent a lot of time there, made a lot of good friendships with people in that organization and the first time going back as a visiting team player, I think it’s going to be – I don’t know – I don’t really know what to expect. I think it’ll be fun, though.”

Skinner was immensely popular while playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2010, the baby-faced teen jumped onto the scene and played all 82 games in 2010-11, totaling 63 points (31 goals and 32 assists). He was named to the All-Star game and took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

He spent a total of eight years playing for the Canes, scoring 204 goals to go with 175 assists for 379 points in 579 games. Not only was he a fan favorite on the ice, he was also equally loved off it, having spent plenty of time giving back to the community that fully embraced him. It’s likely he’ll get a warm reception by fans when he takes the ice wearing the Sabres’ blue and gold.

“There will definitely be some emotions,” said Skinner. “But it’s just sort of part of the game. Part of life. I think you just have to find a way to sort of channel it, I guess, and use some of it to your advantage. And other than that, just sort of focus on the game, because we’ve got a big job in front of us.”

Skinner’s Start

Skinner, now 26, was born in Toronto. At the age of 16, he was playing for the Kitchener Rangers and put up 51 points in 63 games his first season. He then followed it up with a monster year in 2009-10, tallying 50 goals and adding 40 assists in 64 games. He kept his high octane pace going in the playoffs, too, pouring in 20 goals and 13 assists in 20 games. His Rangers team won two series before falling to the Windsor Spitfires in seven games. The Spitfires, led by Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique up front and with Ryan Ellis and Cam Fowler on the blueline, won it all that year.

Like any 18-year-old moving to a new city, Skinner adapted to his surroundings in Raleigh and grew up quickly. He soon learned to love several quintessential Carolina favorites: college basketball and southern cuisine.

Jeff Skinner
Skinner’s smile comes as easy as his 5-on-5 goals. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Skinner thinks highly of his time in North Carolina, holds many memories near his heart, and maintains many of his friendships that began there. In 2016, the left winger launched his own initiative to honor local educators, called 53’s Difference Makers. With his support, the charity recognized teachers at 15 Hurricanes home games throughout the 2016-17 season. Those selected received a $1,000 donation to their school, a $100 gift certificate to a teacher’s store, four tickets to a Hurricanes game, and a postgame meet-and-greet.

“Education has always been something that is important to my family and to me,” said Skinner when he announced the initiative. “I know from my own personal experiences the type of impact that a great teacher can have on a person, and I wanted to give back to some of this area’s true difference makers.”

Skinner Traded to Buffalo

Skinner’s time in with the Hurricanes wasn’t all rainbows and jujubes. The team failed to make the playoffs every year and his final years were filled with tension and frustration. With one year left on his six-year, $34.35 million contract that pays him $5.725 annually, he waived his no-movement clause and was dealt to the Sabres for forward prospect Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and third- and sixth-round picks in the 2020 Draft.

“With Jeff becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer, this was the right time for us to move on, and to provide Jeff with a fresh start in Buffalo,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell. “We talked to every team in the league over the past four months, and ultimately the Sabres were the team that provided us with the best value in return, including three picks and a prospect we like in Cliff Pu.”

Jason Botterill Buffalo Sabres
Botterill knew he needed a scoring winger and he’s found one in Skinner. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Acquiring a player of Skinner’s caliber without surrendering a first-round pick or a roster player was a heist that Sabres general manager Jason Botterill could still be charged and jailed for. The move was a tremendous step in setting a new tone for the team this season.

Skinner’s Success with Sabres

Skinner has flourished with the Sabres. Through 43 games, most of them with captain Jack Eichel, the sniper has lit the lamp 29 times and has 42 points in 43 games. He’s on pace to shatter his personal-best total of 37 goals that he set in 2016-17.

He’s second in the league in scoring, only one goal behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.

After the trade, Waddell said he wasn’t worried about the Canes filling the gap in offense left behind by Skinner. Sure enough, his team is struggling to score, with only 113 goals–last place in the Eastern Conference. They’re seven points out of a wild-card spot.

Related: Ailing Eichel Voted an All-Star Again

Skinner’s Next Contract

The smile on Skinner’s face will likely continue to widen with every goal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent, ready to cash in on another lucrative contract. His 5-on-5 scoring is hard to come by and will command a hefty raise. Botterill and the Sabres will likely try to keep the snubbed All-Star, if they can agree on term and dollar amount.

Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner
Skinner was one of the giant reasons for the Sabres 10-game winning streak in November. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

For now, Skinner’s is a constant threat on the ice and continues to fill the net with regularity as the Sabres cling to a wild-card spot. He may have Carolina on his mind, but he’s wearing the Sabres logo on his sweater. And that’s music to hockey fans in western New York.