COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jack Skille became an unrestricted free agent on July 5, and the next couple of days felt a lot longer than 48 hours.
Life as a professional athlete rarely contains any semblance of certainty. The “comforts of home” often refer to a king bed in a hotel room rather than a four-acre ranch outside the city limits. But finding those comforts – in whatever way they come – has a lot to do with finding the right opportunity. Skille, with the advantage of being able to choose his next destination, took some time to evaluate the options.
On the checklist: a place where he fit in, a place where there was some familiarity, and a team that stands a good chance to win. When the Blue Jackets came calling, things materialized quickly.
“I think (choosing the Blue Jackets) was mainly about the opportunity that has presented itself here in Columbus,” Skille told BlueJackets.com. “I work hard every summer to make sure I get better and to give myself the best chance, and I saw what Columbus did last year and all the character they showed. It’s unbelievable here, and I’m so excited to be part of this group.
“The guys have been great and welcomed me with open arms since the first day I got into town. A big part of my decision was to be part of a good group of guys who believe in each other and want to make each other better every single game. That’s the atmosphere we have here, without a doubt.”
Having grown up with Jack Johnson and spent their teenage years together in Ann Arbor, Skille had a pretty good idea of what he was signing up for with the Blue Jackets. The transition to new surroundings is smoother, he said, and the assimilation into a new locker room is much easier.
It’s a locker room that proved a lot last year, Skille said, and he was among those who noticed what the Blue Jackets accomplished down the stretch. Seeing how the team came together and how everyone put their best foot forward every night played a big role in his free-agent decision.
“I remember when I was playing for the Blackhawks and we came to Columbus, you always knew they were a hard team to play against,” Skille said. “Now, there’s a lot of hard work going in here and there are a lot of guys with character and grit who want to win. When you have that combination, it’s a lot easier to build a winning culture and that’s what players want to be part of. It’s a healthy environment.”
With training camp less than a week away and a couple roster spots to be accounted for, there’s a ripe opportunity for the 26-year-old Skille to break camp with the Blue Jackets and have a role on the big club.
Skille brought Nashville Predators skills coach Shawn Allard, who often works with NHL players on a freelance basis during the offseason, to Madison over the summer and together, they dug their heels into his game. Weaknesses, strengths, off-ice training – all the bases were covered. If a specific workout or drill was going to better his game, Skille was all ears.
“I made sure that this past summer I hired a personal skills coach,” Skille said. “That was really important. We logged a lot of hours on the ice, working on the details and fine tuning things. We also worked hard off the ice in the weight room and did a lot of training.
“I worked on a lot of my weaknesses and wanted to make sure I came into this training camp better than I was last year.”