Sabres’ Jeff Skinner Set for 1,000th Career Game

The Buffalo Sabres’ matchup against the Washington Capitals tonight is guaranteed to be memorable.

When forward Jeff Skinner steps on the ice for his first shift at KeyBank Center, he’ll officially become the 394th member of the NHL’s 1,000-game club and the second Sabre to reach the milestone this season after former captain Kyle Okposo did so in November. The Sabres, once again, have an evening of festivities planned to commemorate the occasion, and Skinner will be the center of attention throughout, regardless of how the game goes.

Resilience Has Driven Skinner

Most other players who have the distinction of playing 1,000 or more games in the NHL spent most of their careers chasing that mark. The last five Sabres to join the prestigious club were well into their 30s by their 1,000th game: Jason Pominville (2018), Mike Grier (2010) and Okposo were all 35, James Patrick (1999) was 36 and Brian Gionta (2017) was 38.

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At 31 years old, Skinner will be amongst the youngest players to reach this milestone and will be the youngest active member of this club. Reaching this plateau in such a short time requires gumption, and the undersized winger has shown exactly that since he first stepped on the ice.

Jeff Skinner Buffalo Sabres
Jeff Skinner will be honored ahead of his 1,000th game in Buffalo on April 2, 2024 (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers).

Skinner was drafted seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010 and made his NHL debut that fall as the youngest player in the NHL for the 2010-11 season. He also became the first 18-year-old in 27 years to be named to the All-Star Game and later won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year after scoring 31 goals.

However, his next three seasons were marred by concussions and, at one point, it seemed that his career would be short-lived. Still, he remained productive throughout that arduous stretch and eventually regained his confidence. The Hurricanes acknowledged his efforts and made him an alternate captain in 2016, a role he kept until the team surprisingly traded him in the summer of 2018 in one of the most one-sided deals in recent memory.

Related: 3 Things the Sabres Should Focus On to Close out the Season

Skinner’s ups and downs with the Sabres have been well documented, but he persevered, even before he arrived in Western New York. He entered this season missing only 61 of a possible 993 games. Since his concussion-plagued early years, he’s showcased a remarkable ability to stay healthy and has largely avoided the injured list.

His endurance has allowed him to become one of the better goal scorers of his generation, as he’s recorded at least 20 in nine of his 14 seasons, reaching the 300-goal plateau in Oct. 2022. If he can remain productive, he may have a legitimate chance to reach the 500-goal club. Although he’s been pigeonholed as a one-dimensional “finisher,” last season, he displayed a newfound passing prowess, posting a career-high 47 assists and 82 points.

Deserved Honor for Skinner

Skinner isn’t anywhere near slowing down and has a ways to go before he calls it quits. Even though this season has been a bit of a disappointment, and his numbers are lower than usual, he has plenty left in the tank and could end up ranking among the all-time games played list.

Unfortunately, tonight Skinner will also become the first NHL player to appear in 1000 games without a single trip to the NHL postseason. We all know the Sabres’ playoff drought, but, surprisingly, the Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs in any of his eight seasons there. He hasn’t appeared in a playoff contest since Game 7 of the 2010 Ontario Hockey League Western Conference Final.

“I don’t think it’s any reflection on him, negative.”

– Sabres Head Coach Don Granato on the postseason alluding Skinner.

That dubious distinction should not sour his accomplishment, however. Skinner has made his way through a lot in his career, and receiving the coveted silver stick will be a perfect reward for his determination. Since he hails from the Toronto suburb of Markham, a strong contingent of his family and friends will likely be in attendance at KeyBank Center to share in his special night.

Though this season hasn’t gone to plan for him and his team, as the Sabres will miss the playoffs for a 13th consecutive year, tonight will be a grand occasion for Skinner, and he deserves to bask in the glory. Congratulations to him on a remarkable achievement.