It is no secret that Jeff Skinner’s concussion issues have caused setbacks for the 24-year-old, so much so that word has circled around that if he suffers one more concussion his career is over, which eventually led to trade rumours.
Part of playing a physical sport entails accepting the fact that injuries can happen. However, while being mindful of that fact, it is important to play without fear and that has been troublesome for Skinner.
There have been times when he’s not as aggressive in the corners or turns the puck over, dreading getting knocked out of the game. Part of this problem in the past may have been a result of not having teammates to step up for him after a big hit.
Although playing in fear hasn’t completely vanished, Skinner’s play in 2015-16 was a drastic improvement from 2014-15.
Leader of the New School
Now, with his improved game, it is time for Skinner to take a new role this year and be more of a leader in all facets. After Eric Staal moved on to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, Skinner’s play had a noticeable increased level of intensity. Even when he wasn’t adding to the score sheet, he was present on the play, finding ways to create chances or put the puck in the net.
In the 13 games following Staal’s exit, Skinner recorded 12 points and an incredible performance against the Ottawa Senators that featured a last second slap shot to send the game to overtime.
Now entering his sixth NHL season, despite being just 24 years of age, Skinner is going to be considered a leader. He is also the second longest-tenured Hurricanes player, behind Cam Ward.
He already has two 30-goal seasons and a 28-goal campaign last season. His resume includes 143 goals and more than 1,300 shots on goal, all before turning 24. That puts him among good company, historically. There are only four other players to reach those accomplishments before that age: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin.
There is something to be said for a natural goal scorer like Skinner having those numbers notwithstanding his setbacks from concussions. Skinner’s first concussion came in December of 2011 where he missed 18 games and he was placed on IR with a concussion in 2014-15, missing five games.
Skinner also had nine goals in six games in December and managed to improve his defensive play, stripping pucks in the neutral zone. His minus-2 rating was a 22-point improvement from 2014-15.
There’s Always Room for Improvement
With all the improvements, Skinner could still work on having a quicker release and not always winding up for the shot in the slot. He would also benefit from being more aggressive in the corners. It’s hard to criticize him for being careful, but there’s a difference between being careful and being afraid of getting hit.
Look for Skinner to improve defensively again while also being a scoring machine. He’s the best the Hurricanes have on the scoring front, and they need some work offensively after landing 27th in the league in scoring.
It’s time for Skinner to embrace his role as a presence on the ice and a leader in the locker room. He’s not the baby-faced 18-year-old Jeff Skinner anymore…he’s the 24-year-old, baby-faced Jeff Skinner.