After signing his big ticket in the offseason, Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner has struggled to rekindle the scoring touch that he possessed last season. There are several factors that have led to the steep decline in production this season, some of which are easier to explain than others.
Who Skinner is as a player, along with the context of his current situation are all vital pieces to better understand how he has stumbled out of the gate this season.
How Skinner Plays
As his career has progressed, Skinner has proven that he is a goalscorer. His goalscoring abilities were especially put on display when he was acquired last offseason from the Carolina Hurricanes.
With expectations quite mild, Skinner drastically exceeded these expectations. Throughout last season, he showcased the many ways he can score goals, whether that be from his lethal shot, hand-eye coordination, or sheer determination to find pucks in front of the net.
To go along with his goalscoring abilities, the Markham, Ontario native has some of the best edge work throughout the NHL. This edge work allows him to subtly create space for himself, mainly from the way that he constantly is opening and closing his hips. This is a unique skating style that is rarely seen, mainly because of the difficulty of performing this maneuver while moving at high speeds.
With this impressive skating ability, Skinner lacks the explosiveness that Sabres fans have come accustomed to with a player like Jack Eichel. That is what people need to understand — Skinner’s game does not revolve around speed. His game is more dedicated to core strength and protection of the puck. With this play style, Skinner lacks the ability to drive the pace of play on his own, which has become a glaring issue this season.
As the lack of production continues to build up for Skinner, many have been critical of the players surrounding him on the ice. This topic has been hotly debated after the massive success everyone saw with Skinner and Eichel playing together. With Ralph Krueger coming into the fold, the first-year coach has kept the two separated to this point.
One of the main reasons for this separation has been the emergence of Victor Olofsson. He, along with Eichel and Reinhart, have formed good chemistry on the top line. These three have stayed together for the majority of this season, while Skinner has been juggled around the lineup.
Now I know, it’s egregious to make excuses for a $9 million forward who has 19 points in 38 games; but it has been a true cast of characters that have joined Skinner on his line. Early on, it seemed as though Marcus Johansson was a good fit with him, although Johansson has been in and out of the lineup with injuries.
Outside of this, Skinner has not been able to gel with any of the other forward options. It has left their star forward searching for ways to create offense — for the most part without any success.
Skinner’s Own Play
Ultimately, it all boils down to Skinner finding a way to dig himself out of the slump he finds himself in. Perhaps the Christmas vacation couldn’t have come at a better time for him, acting as somewhat of a reset.
Regardless of his play style, or players around him, Skinner needs to adjust his mindset in order to better his teammates. His visible frustration has been on full display, something we rarely saw from the winger last year. A change in body language is a major sign for a struggling player, and one Sabres fans would love to see disappear as the calendar year ends.
His time on ice plummeted to under 12 minutes in the Dec. 14 game against the Islanders, signifying that Krueger isn’t afraid to diminish his stars ice time in the face of poor play. The numbers back up this verdict, but the eye test is the true barometer. There have been several moments this season where Skinner seemed to look lost, like he’s missing Eichel dearly. Whether this is true or not, it doesn’t justify the fact that his effort has been sorely lacking.
To add insult to the whole situation, Skinner is now out 3-4 weeks with an upper body injury. Even with his lack of production, Buffalo will sorely miss his presence as they search for more offense. As a whole, the injury caps a disappointing stretch for Skinner, and one he will surely like to forget as 2019 comes to an end.