As unpredictable as the top 10 selections of the NHL draft turned out to be, the Canes still ended up getting their man at No. 7.
With that pick, Carolina chose Kitchener Rangers forward Jeff Skinner
, who’s viewed as perhaps the best goal scorer in the entire draft. Besides the offensive touch, the Canes also love his competitive nature and hockey sense.
“Getting 50 goals in your draft year is something not many players are capable of doing,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “Even more impressive than that was the 20 goals in 20 playoff games, which is very, very hard to do.
“It’s also his character and how he competes - he does what it takes to win. We felt very strong about this player, and when we kept saying that we weren’t going to move up from our pick at seven, that’s who we were hoping to get.”
The pick of Skinner in itself wasn’t surprising, but the circumstances surrounding it were. Rutherford said he did not expect any of the draft’s top three defensemen, Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley and Erik Gudbranson, to be available by the time the Canes stepped to the podium. As it turned out, Carolina had their choice of Fowler and Gormley, but chose neither.
“We did not expect that,” admitted Rutherford. “As tempting as that was, we just kept going back and asking if we were taking the best player on our list. We had him ahead of all three defensemen.”
Still, interest in Fowler and Gormley remained. Rutherford said that he offered all three of the team’s second round picks to four different teams who chose after the Hurricanes, but could not find any takers. Fowler was taken at 12 by Anaheim, while Gormley went at 13 to Phoenix.
”I thought we came close with one team, but it didn’t happen,” said Rutherford. “It would have been a nice move and a nice pick for us at that point, even though it would have changed our entire draft strategy.”
In Skinner, the Canes feel they’ll get goals in bunches. According to Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald, he scores them many different ways, making him “difficult to defend against” and “deadly from the blue line in.””I like to think I have a pretty good shot,” said Skinner. “I like to think that I have pretty good hockey sense and instincts to be around the net and pick up any loose pucks.”
Some view him as being an NHL-ready prospect, as his frame, although not massive at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, is well-developed. For his part, the player himself admits that he’ll need to improve before he can make the jump. If not, he’ll return to what’s expected to be a strong junior team in Kitchener.
”I guess that's up to the coaching staff and management staff in
Carolina to tell me if I'm ready,” said Skinner. “I think my goal right now is to have as good a summer as I can, working out, getting stronger and getting better.”
I don’t view him as a small guy,” said Rutherford. “I think people look at his height and he’s not six feet so people say he’s small, but he’s 190 pounds and he’s got the hockey build. He’s physically fit and has the ability to play in the NHL next season, but now you have to see how he handles the pace of the game and those kinds of
things. We’ll give him a chance to make our team, but he’s going to have to earn that at training camp.”
Skinner’s skating ability has been perceived as a potential weakness in some circles, which is odd considering that he was a nationally-ranked figure skater in his youth until giving it up at the age of 13. While that choice of sport has caught up to him to some degree (“[My teammates] enjoy giving me the occasional chirp about it,” he admitted.), he actually feels he’s a better hockey player because of it.
”I think it's definitely helped my hockey, my skating, my balance and my edge work,” he said.
Skinner has received a wide range of comparisons to current NHL players. MacDonald has used Mark Recchi and Danny Briere as benchmarks, while others cite Mike Richards, Joe Sakic and Zach Parise. While it’s impossible to resemble every one of those players at once, they should all be considered extremely good company.
The Canes will be busy on Saturday, with 10 picks remaining in rounds two through seven. That includes the three second round choices, starting at No. 37 (the seventh pick of the round) and continuing with No.’s 46 and 53.
Having missed out on a chance to add Fowler or Gormley later in the first, Rutherford said he’d like to add two defensemen in the second.
”We’ve still got a couple of defensemen there that we really like a lot,” he said. “We’ve got six picks ahead of us here, so we’ll see if we can get one of them.”