A whirlwind day for Jeff Skinner
is only just beginning.
While most players take a nap in between the morning skate and game time, the Hurricanes’ recent first-round draft choice signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Tuesday afternoon - just hours before his preseason debut against the Florida Panthers at the RBC Center.
“It’s definitely an exciting day,” said Skinner, whose parents were in town to witness the signing. “I just wanted to get it out of the way so I can focus on playing hockey.”
General Manager Jim Rutherford has been glowing in his praise of Skinner ever since draft day. That continued through the team’s rookie conditioning camp, the Traverse City prospects tournament and the first few days of training camp.
“He does things that not many players can do,” said Rutherford. “He has a very special talent and plays with so much determination when that game is on the line because he wants to win.”
Since Skinner could still end up returning to his junior hockey team in Kitchener, the contract may not kick in this season. His performance during the rest of camp will determine that, although it would appear that he has an excellent chance of making the season-opening trip to Europe.
“I hope so, but I really can’t focus on that,” he said. “I’m going to leave those decisions to higher people and do all I can do, and that’s play hockey.”
The belief among Hurricanes management and coaches is that, despite being just 18 years old and having never suited up the professional level, Skinner possesses all the tools that could make him an NHL player this season. They also feel that off-season conditioning work with former Hurricane Gary Roberts has prepared him for the prospect of playing against older, more physical players.
“Jeff Skinner may actually be a little more physically advanced (than Eric Staal in his rookie year),” said coach Paul Maurice. “This guy is pretty powerful and has such a great skating stride.”
Skinner said that he did not feel the contract would put any added pressure on him during camp and particularly during the Florida game. Part of that is because all young players in camp will likely be feeling enough pressure as it is, although their coach is encouraging them to play loose.
“I want to see them have some fun,” said Maurice. “I know the nervousness and the tension that comes from being a young player in this league, but I also want them to have a feeling of excitement for what they might get accomplished on the ice and absolutely not a feeling of dread about a mistake that might hurt their chances.”
”I don’t know if I’d say it’s pressure,” said Skinner. “I obviously realize the chance they’ve taken on my and I really appreciate it. I’m going to do my best to play as well as I can and hopefully prove them right.”
Skinner, who will be down the middle tonight but can also play the wing, is one of four Hurricanes centers that will be playing their first NHL exhibition against Florida. He’ll be on a line with Chad LaRose and Patrick Dwyer and should get plenty of opportunity to contribute.