Jack Skille never wanted to leave Columbus, but things just didn’t work out this summer as he entered unrestricted free agency.
He felt like he had found his game and was rejuvenated playing for coach Todd Richards and a young, energetic team on an upward trajectory. Skille, 27, went from a fourth-line role midway through the season to playing on the Blue Jackets’ top line during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But on July 1, the two parties could not reach an agreement and Skille, feeling like he had to make a move one way or the other, signed a two-way contract with the New York Islanders.
The Islanders put him on waivers Saturday afternoon and the Blue Jackets put in a claim, hoping to bolster their forward group in the wake of injuries and an unsigned Ryan Johansen. Skille said the thought of returning to Columbus was in the back of his mind, and when he went on waivers (where there are 29 possibilities), it crept to the forefront.
“There was a possibility of Columbus picking me up and I was hoping it turned out this way,” Skille told BlueJackets.com, while making the 10-hour drive from Long Island to central Ohio on Sunday. “Now that it’s happened, I’m really excited, I can’t wait and I’m ready to write a new chapter in Columbus. It feels really, really good.
“Usually 10 hours is a long haul, but I’ll make an exception for it.”
Skille said he was disappointed that a return to the Blue Jackets wasn’t in the cards this summer, and that he learned a lot from Richards and the coaching staff that provided a welcomed boost of confidence and, in turn, more responsibility on the ice.
He scored four goals in 16 regular season games (including a gigantically-important go-ahead goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 23) and played on the right wing of a line with Johansen and rookie Boone Jenner during the playoffs, and it was that experience that had Skille entering the summer with a good feeling about where he was in his career — and he was hoping it included an extended stay in Columbus.
Though it wasn't meant to be at the time, Skille harbored no ill will toward the Blue Jackets and never closed the door. On Sunday, that door reopened.
“It was tough to leave Columbus, it really was,” Skille said. “I thought I was going to make a home there and things ended on such a high note. I was feeling pretty confident about my role with the organization and everything kind of fell through at the last minute for whatever reason. I wasn’t happy about it, but in the back of my mind, I knew I had a solid relationship with everyone there and there were no sour grapes.
“I figured a lot of things out about my personal game last season…about playing the way I need to play in order to stay in the league, to have success and to help my team win.”
It was all about getting Skille to play to his strengths. The Blue Jackets wanted Skille to use his size and speed to wreak havoc on the forecheck - a big part of their identity - and use his underrated wrist shot as often as possible, and he scored his four regular-season goals in only seven games.
Where previously he might have been guilty of overthinking the game and getting ahead of himself, Skille said he focused on slowing the game down, which led to better reads and reactionary plays in all three zones.
As for an adjustment period this time around, Skille isn’t too concerned. While it’s technically a new team he’s joining, Skille has a good handle on the systems and expectations.
“The Blue Jackets know the type of player that I am and what I can bring to the table,” Skille said. “(Last year), I realized that playing simple, making good decisions and letting the game come to me was going to bring me good results. I want to do whatever I can to help my team, that's what I want to contribute here and help this team win.
“I’m excited to get back to an atmosphere and a room where guys want to win, they want to have success as a team, and that’s what I’m all about. It’s going to be a fun experience.”