It’s possible that what’s already been a remarkable rookie season for Jeff Skinner
could take a most unexpected turn.
According to a report by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun
, the NHL plans to replace those unable to play in the All-Star Game due to injury with rookies from the previous day’s SuperSkills competition. With other reports claiming that the Pittsburgh Penguin’s duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are unlikely to play, not to mention Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky, it looks as though at least three spots would be open.
Whether those rookies would be selected by the NHL (he leads all rookies with 39 points) or during the fantasy draft (in his day job, he sits next to one of the captains), Skinner seems to be a good bet to be playing on Sunday in that scenario.
“That would be crazy,” said the 18-year-old Skinner, who had not heard about the ESPN report until asked by reporters Sunday afternoon. “I can vividly remember watching All-Star Games as a kid. I can remember Dany Heatley scoring 5 goals (4 in regulation and 1 in the shootout in 2003) and Eric Staal winning the MVP (in 2008). It’s so cool seeing all the top-end players in one building, and to be a part of that would be really cool.”
That honor would only continue a dream season for Skinner, who has become one of the Hurricanes go-to players just a few months after being drafted seventh overall in June. Participating in the skills competition was nice enough in itself, but playing in an All-Star Game during his first year would be an extremely rare occurrence.
The venue only makes it better.
“Being in Raleigh, I think it adds a special touch,” he said.
As for his contributions in the skills competition, he said that he’s already been talking with Canes goalie Justin Peters about things he could try in the breakaway portion, but won’t put too much thought into it otherwise.
“I’m not going to get much faster in the next couple of days,” he said.
Naturally, Skinner was all smiles when talking about All-Star weekend, and he even gave a sheepish grin or two when asked about his heated altercation with Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz the night before. With the Hurricanes down 3-1 near the end of the third period, Skinner and Kunitz had to be separated by referees in an intense verbal exchange that continued as both players sat opposite each other in the penalty box.
“I don’t know if you’ll see me do that too often, but the way the game went there were some frustrations,” said Skinner. “He thought I hit him earlier in the play, and I guess I disagreed.”
Speaking to those frustrations, Skinner felt as though the Hurricanes weren’t able to generate offensive chances the way they did in their two previous games against Boston and the New York Rangers. That and the late comeback attempt that didn’t come soon enough were reminiscent of the team’s 3-2 loss in Buffalo one week earlier.
“We were just a little off our game, and then in the last few minutes the desperation comes out,” said Skinner. “We just need to get to that desperation earlier in the game.”
A positive that emerged on Saturday was the performance of Jiri Tlusty, who recorded an assist on Sergei Samsonov’s ice-breaking goal for the Hurricanes and remained on the ice for Eric Staal’s subsequent tally that brought it within one. Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice will be the first to say that it’s difficult to make an impact in limited ice time on the fourth line, but an assist and a +2 rating in 8:24 certainly qualifies.
“It was good to be on the ice and to be in that position,” said Tlusty, who added that he’s felt comfortable since returning from a month-long shoulder injury two games ago. “It was good experience, and I think we were just a little unlucky that we couldn’t finish it.”
Tlusty was one of just five players who practiced on Sunday, along with Troy Bodie, Jay Harrison, Ian White and Peters. Maurice was not present to give an update on Patrick Dwyer, who took just one shift in the third period against Pittsburgh and did not return. If Dwyer is unable to face Toronto at home on Monday, the Hurricanes would need to recall a player from AHL Charlotte, likely the morning of the game.