Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs did not feature the Carolina Hurricanes and rookie forward Jeff Skinner, the seventh pick of the 2010 Entry Draft still can appreciate the impact other young players like him have had during this year's postseason.
"I think it's great, obviously, for young guys like that to go in,” Skinner said. "I think just the situations they're in and how they handle the pressure, big game after big game -- it's impressive the way they handle themselves."
Although missing the playoffs was not what Skinner had hoped for, it has allowed him to watch and learn from some fellow NHL youngsters.
"To watch them is fun, and I think you just sort of try and pick up on little things that they do," Skinner said.
Three youngsters Skinner has been following especially closely are San Jose's Logan Couture, Boston's Tyler Seguin and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Skinner said he's hoping to improve by taking different things from their games and adding them to his skill set, with the goal of getting the Hurricanes to the postseason next year.
Skinner is one of three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, along with Couture and the New York Islanders' Michael Grabner. Couture however, is the only one of the three whose team qualified for the postseason. Although the Sharks are on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference Finals, he has handled the postseason pressure well. His 7 goals and 14 points in 17 games lead all rookies.
The feature of Couture's game Skinner has noticed is his hockey sense -- "Couture is so good around the net and so smart," he said. With 56 points, Couture was second in the NHL among rookie scorers during the regular season, behind only Skinner's 63.
Seguin is another rookie that has made the most of his opportunity to play this postseason. Although Seguin had to wait until the Eastern Conference Finals to get his chance, the second pick of the 2010 Entry Draft made the most of it, scoring 6 points. Seguin and the Bruins now sit one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1990.
Skinner credits Seguin's success to an aspect of his game that Skinner believes is something that should always be improved on -- speed.
"You always want to get faster," Skinner said. "Seguin's got great speed."
Even before playing against each other in the Ontario Hockey League, Skinner (Kitchener) and Seguin (Plymouth) had a relationship. They played together on the Toronto Young Nationals in the Greater Toronto Hockey League in 2007-08; Skinner scored 97 points in 50 games that season, while Seguin had 86 points in 51 games.
One of Seguin's opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals is a player who, like Skinner and Seguin, went straight from the OHL to the NHL after being drafted -- Lightning forward Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos was the first pick of the 2008 draft, and now in his third NHL season has been a huge part of the reason Tampa has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
"Stamkos has a great shot," Skinner said. "Probably one of the quickest releases in the League."
Stamkos and Skinner hail from Markham, Ont., about a half-hour north of Toronto. The two also work out over the summer with former NHL player Gary Roberts, although they worked with Roberts at different times.
Neither Skinner's past with Seguin nor his Markham roots has influenced Skinner's rooting interest, however.
"It's sort of tough to root for anyone else just because you're disappointed with the results of your own season," he said.
However, Skinner wishes the best for the young players like him who have proved this season that they will be key players for years to come, and hopes next year he'll have a chance to put their experience to his own use.
For our team, as a group, we've never been this far before, and so it's just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn't. We've got a young group. They've played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we're not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that's what they did. It's a lesson learned.
— Lightning coach Jon Cooper after Rangers win in Game 6 forced a Game 7 that will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday