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'Canes Skinner draws huge crowd at Fan Fest

by Dan Rosen /
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The line for Jeff Skinner's autograph extended so far inside NHL Fan Fair on Friday there was simply no way the Hurricanes 18-year-old rookie was going to be able to get his signature on everything that could have been offered to him during his hour-long signing session.

It didn't matter. The fans here are in the midst of such a love affair with Skinner that simply being near him -- getting close to see his genuine smile and feel his easy-going attitude -- was enough, autograph or not.

Skinner, who leads all rookie scorers in the NHL with 40 points, will become the youngest player in any of the four major professional sports to be on an All-Star team when he takes the ice at the RBC Center for the NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover.

But Skinner is more than just an All-Star to these fans here. He's a rock star. He's their Justin Bieber -- and he is all theirs.

"I know he's from Canada, but he just seems like an All-American boy," said Lisa Musilek, who was at the Raleigh Convention Center on Friday with her 14-year-old daughter, Madison, a Skinner fanatic. "He's handling his fame really well. What a great kid -- and he's so adorable."

Skinner isn't too sure of the how, the when or really even the why about his attraction here -- but he appreciates it and understands how promising this weekend could be for him and his adopted city.

It started with a bang Friday at the Fan Fair, but soon Skinner will be among the rest of his fellow NHL All-Stars, living the dream of any young hockey-playing kid while still being a young hockey-playing kid.

He's only 18 years old. He won't turn 19 until May.

"It's pretty cool. It's crazy," Skinner, who was named Wednesday as an All-Star replacement, told "That's the only word I've been using, crazy. You can't really anticipate something like this so when it comes up you just take it as well you can and just try to roll with it and take it day by day, try to reflect later on.

"I think [the fame] just sort of gradually came up. It's pretty exciting, though, to see how crazy they get."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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