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Tweetmail No. 163: Favorites, Shifts & Futures

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

DENVER - Hello and welcome to Tweetmail, now presented by Tijuana Flats! Wear your Canes gear to participating Raleigh locations on Wednesdays throughout the season and receive 50% off any entrée.

Tweetmail is a weekly feature on CarolinaHurricanes.com in which I take your Twitter questions about the Carolina Hurricanes or other assorted topics and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully the final product is insightful to some degree, and maybe we have some fun along the way.

Let's get to it.

Tweet from @EJFarrell89: Who has been your favorite player to watch this season? #tweetmail @MSmithCanes

When this team is clicking, it's a fun group to watch, but the player that has been my favorite to watch is Jeff Skinner.

Skinner paces the team in goals with seven this season, and I feel like he has the potential to be dangerous each and every time the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone. The way he nimbly skates around defenders, stickhandles through tight spaces and, more often than not, makes something out of seemingly nothing is so rewarding to be able to see unfold as it happens.

And it's not just in game action. He ends warm-ups by mimicking a fair catch in football when he tries to snag pucks flipped high in the air toward the net by Jaccob Slavin. In practices, I don't think there's anyone who has more fun on the ice each and every day. He approaches every drill with the idea of scoring. He bangs his stick on the board and glass and cheers his teammates on when they make a nice play. He throws his hands in the air or gives emphatic fist-pumps to celebrate goals. And his antics after practice formally ends - whether it's seeking out rebounds during a defensemen shooting drill or mirroring a goaltender's moves - bring levity to the otherwise mundane proceedings.

Speaking of …

Tweet from @PeteDevisser: The elephant in the room....how do you not get Skinner on for even 1 shift in OT, and then no SO

Since I'm simply writing about the decisions made versus being the one who actually makes those decisions, I can only say so much about this without purely offering speculation. What I can do is try to help shed some light on the context.

We know head coach Bill Peters didn't use Skinner and his line late in regulation because they had been on the ice for all three of Anaheim's goals.

"We had to make sure we got the point. They were minus-3 as a line at that time and had given up opportunities," Peters said after practice on Tuesday. "Eventually it's got to end, right? To me, there's no sense in letting them go minus-4."

A similar rationale might have guided strategy in overtime. Defensive liability or not, I'm of the belief that you'd like to see your team leader in goals on the ice in 3-on-3, but I don't get paid to make those decisions and nor would you want me getting paid to make those decisions. Perhaps we would have seen Skinner at some point - there were a couple of long shifts in which skaters got stuck on the ice - but that's tough to say. Even still, the Canes had two breakaways in 3-on-3 action, two golden opportunities to end the game right then and there.

As far as the shootout goes, it might have been a simple game of statistics. Yes, Skinner is the team-leader in goals and he's probably the most talented natural goal scorer the Canes have on their roster. For whatever reason, though, that doesn't always translate to results in the shootout. Skinner is 6-for-35 (17.1 percent) lifetime in the skills competition, and the three shooters that Peters put on the ice on Sunday have better career numbers: Aho was 2-for-6 (33.3 percent), Slavin was 4-for-9 (44.4 percent) and Williams was 7-for-21 (33.3 percent). With his hard-to-stop, patented backhand move, Slavin is a virtual lock for the shootout. It's then a question of who the other two shooters will be. Peters opted to go with two shooters with better career stats than Skinner, and if any of the three score, perhaps this isn't even a topic of discussion.

Tweet from @natep59: How do you see kuokkanen situation going? Thought he looked really good when he played this season. Just needed to bear down sometimes.

Janne Kuokkanen's situation is very similar to that of Martin Necas. At this point in both of their careers, the best developmental tool is for them to play games. It was clear that Necas wasn't going to see regular ice time with the Hurricanes, so they returned him to his professional team in the Czech Republic, where he is going to be a centerpiece of their roster. Kuokkanen saw a string of games early but then played in just one of the team's next seven games. He's much better served playing games, which is exactly what he'll do in Charlotte. It's clear he's got offensive skill that is going to blossom with time, and he'll be able to cultivate his game as a professional with the Checkers in the American Hockey League.

There's even the possibility Kuokkanen could return to the big club this season. He can still play in five more NHL games before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in, so there is some wiggle room. Either way, the move to assign Kuokkanen to Charlotte sets up the 19-year-old in a prime position to succeed moving forward.

Tweet from @panthersoscanes: Can you explain why we traded away our #1 wide receiver when we're a clear playoff contender? :'(

Quick football question and answer because anything goes here in #Tweetmail. (And also, #OneCarolina.) So on the Kelvin Benjamin trade, the irrational fan in me is completely befuddled and slightly unhinged that the Panthers traded away their No. 1 receiver and a former first-round pick for two draft picks. But trying to assess it rationally, I kind of get it; the team gets something for him now versus losing him for nothing in the offseason, questions remain about the health of his knee, etc. But I do wonder how it affects the psyche of a 5-3 team square in the playoff mix, not to mention how it affects an offense that is already struggling to find the endzone with regularity. We'll see!

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Join me next week for more questions and more answers!

If you have a question you'd like answered or you have something you'd like to hear discussed on episode 16 of #CanesCast (how are you all enjoying it so far?), you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes or drop an email here.

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