The 2013 NHL season was forgettable for Jeff Skinner and the Carolina Hurricanes as a whole. The team was looking to take a step forward after acquiring big pieces in Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal and appeared to be capable of challenging for a division crown.
A glut of injuries—including one to starting goaltender Cam Ward—derailed their season, and the ‘Canes missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. While there were a lot of negatives to take away from the campaign, no one caught more flack in the media than Skinner. He was supposed to be the cornerstone around which Carolina was building for the future.
He looked like anything but in 2013. He managed 24 points in 42 games, but was an atrocious minus-21 on the year. Skinner seemed to struggle with the high level of competition at times and didn’t seem particularly engaged down the stretch. Odd considering this was the same player that became one of the NHL’s darlings with a 63-point rookie season.
Then came the six-year, $34.35 million contract extension. And, more notably, the concussion issues.
He missed 18 games in his sophomore year while dealing with head trauma, and the missed time and injury itself badly effected Skinner’s timing and ability to handle the puck. For a smaller player to be effective in the NHL, the timing and puck control must be top-notch, and they weren’t for Skinner over the last two seasons.
2013-14 appears to be different for the 21 year-old though. Despite playing Carolina’s first five games on the third line, he’s leading the team in scoring with six points. He’s shot the puck a whopping 18 times and is making the most out of every opportunity he gets.
Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer wrote about Skinner’s increased confidence yesterday:
Jeff Skinner was one of the last off the ice Saturday at the Carolina Hurricanes’ practice, even after a strenuous workout.
After many of the Canes had left and showered, Skinner stayed out with defenseman Ryan Murphy, skating, shooting the puck, having some fun at Raleigh Center Ice…There seems to be more bounce in his step, more energy in his game this season.
While getting healthy is incredibly important, for a kid like Skinner, the having fun part of the equation may be the most important. Missing time and battling through concussions isn’t fun. In fact, it’s ridiculously frustrating. Skinner spoke to Alexander about that in the same Observer report:
Last year was a little bit of a frustrating year, for me and obviously for the team. Down the stretch we kind of let it get away. But you start the year fresh, and I think we’re sort of playing the right way. When you do that, there’s a good feeling around the locker room.
Skinner is an NHL veteran now, and appears to have found a new lease on life after being moved from center to wing. He’s been playing some outstanding puck so far, and his continued reemergence will be hugely important if the Hurricanes hope to make the playoffs this season.