I’ll admit that I’m a novice when it comes to prospects and how they figure to pan out in the NHL Entry Draft. Usually I’m spending so much time paying attention to the NHL that by the time the Draft comes around I’m scrambling to catch up and just learn about the top few prospects. So, when the draft came around this past summer, I’ll admit I wasn’t too familiar with Jeff Skinner.
With all of the hype of Tyler vs. Taylor, El Nino, Fowler/Gudbranson/Gormley, and the injured but talented Brett Connolly, it’s easy to see how Skinner could get lost in the drama. Not to mention the fact that Skinner was ranked the 34th best North American skater. Factor in international players and Skinner figured to fall out of the first round all together.
Then Carolina steps up to the podium and calls out his name… at 7th overall. Granted, I’m not a prospect aficionado, but I was fairly surprised considering Fowler, Gormley, and two dozen other guys who were ranked ahead of Skinner were still on the board. I’d imagine everyone outside of the Carolina Hurricanes, Bob McKenzie, and Jeff Skinner himself were surprised.
So, I go home after draft day 1 and do some research on Jeff Skinner. I find a lot of stuff about he’s the best natural goal scorer of his class outside or Taylor Hall. That’s great, but then why is he ranked so low? That must mean there are some serious deficiencies in other parts of his game, right? He must have a questionable drive or poor attitude, right? So far, the answer is wrong. Dead wrong.
Jeff Skinner leads all rookie scorers by a decent margin on this young season. He’s a point per game player, with 6 goals and 15 points in 15 games. He’s a plus/minus of 0 on a team that has struggled defensively, which is a good sign. He has just 2 PIMs on the season, which would suggest he isn’t a lazy or undisciplined player. Most of all, his character, attitude, and drive are all top notch.
So why in the world was this kid ranked to go so late, when he is such a special player? Well for one thing, his numbers in the year before his draft year were just “ok”. At 5’10″, he’s not an optimum height, although small is not how I would describe someone at 195 solid pounds of muscle. He’s not the best skater. It’s always hard to determine how a kid’s game will translate to playing with bigger, stronger, more talented adults, so maybe no one saw how well Jeff’s game would go over in the big league.
When it comes down to it, I think the difference came off the ice, where no one could see it but the Hurricanes. Jim Rutherford cited a few years ago that they factor character heavily into the decision making process. It’s what led them to picking Brandon Sutter higher than he was projected as well. They could see that Sutter was a gamer, had great hockey-sense, and had that drive to win.
Skinner has that too.
I don’t know what he showed them in those prospect interviews that all teams do. I don’t even know the types of questions the Hurricanes scouting staff ask. I suspect they aren’t of the wacky variety that we hear some teams ask like, “If you were invaded by a country during war and could only escape with one family member, who would it be?” Whatever it was, Skinner had the right answers, and the questions worked because Skinner’s answers are translating to goals, points, and excellent all-around play.
You can see that character in Skinner too. Just watch any interview with him. It’s often a weird blend of maturity beyond his years and youthful exuberance for the game of hockey. When Skinner says something cliche like, “I’m just trying not to get too low after a loss or too high after a win,” or “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” it’s not because he’s being coached to say that by Crash Davis. It’s because he genuinely believes it.
Hardly anyone expected Skinner to be drafted so high. I’m sure just as few expected him to make the Hurricanes roster on his first try. Even less likely expected him to lead all rookies in scoring by such a margin early into the season. Granted, there is a lot of hockey yet to be played and plenty of time for the other supremely talented rookies left in the NHL to catch up.
However, for the Hurricanes organization and their fans, it’s not about getting a “steal” of a player, or the rookie of the year, or anything like that. It’s about having a player they’re proud to cheer for, and Skinner is certainly that guy.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney