It wasn't that long ago Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner was the talk of the NHL.
His effervescent personality and incredible skill set took the League by storm in 2010-11 when his 31 goals and 63 points in 82 games earned him the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.
Since then, however, Skinner has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
He missed 16 games of his second season with a concussion, and never really regained the form that he had as a rookie on the way to posting 20 goals and 44 points in 64 games. He sustained another concussion last February, at a time when he ranked second on the team with seven goals and 14 points through 13 games.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder returned to an injury-depleted lineup, but went down again in April following a hard hit from Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators on April 16. Skinner finished his third season with 13 goals, 24 points and a minus-21 rating in 42 games.
In order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, there's no question the Hurricanes need to find a way to keep Skinner on the ice for a full 82-game slate. It's a topic that Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller is taking very seriously.
"We love Jeff Skinner for what he is and how he plays, his competitiveness, gutsiness, playing hard and feisty on the puck," Muller told NHL.com. "But he has to understand and read the game a little bit more. There are times when it's important to get your nose dirty and get into those areas and times when it's OK not to put yourself in certain positions.
"I think he's starting to learn there's a balance in the game where there's a difference between that put-your-head-down-and-go-through-the-boards type of mentality and reading the game and being a little smarter."
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford agrees with his coach.
"He started to learn it when he came back last year because we talked to him about it," Rutherford told NHL.com. "He's played three years in the League and it's time. He understands and is a good enough player … he doesn't have to prove anything. I think that's what went on in the early part of it, just learning he could take hits but you don't have to take a hit if you don't have to. That's where he has to pick his spot."
Skinner is about to begin the first year of a six-year contract he signed in August 2012 that carries a $5.725 million salary-cap charge. He needs to be on the ice, aiding the offense.
"I think every year you're sort of looking at it and saying, 'This is a big year.' It's tough to say if it's any bigger than any of my last three, but it's big," Skinner told the Raleigh News and Observer.
Center - CAR
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 24
SOG: 159 | +/-: -21
In an effort to add more muscle and become even more elusive, Skinner has undergone an intense summer training program that focused on moving patterns and efficiency in moving under the watchful eye of strength and fitness trainer Andy O'Brien, who has been running summer camps for NHL players since 2006.
Muller acknowledged that Skinner needed to take a similar approach to the game that Chicago forward and 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane (5-11, 181) has taken with the Blackhawks.
"It's just going about your business of not bringing that extra attention to yourself," Muller said. "Just play. Jeff is still young , he's still learning. He won rookie of year, so a target was on his back right off the hop. He's aware of it and learning, step by step, that he's drawing a lot of attention.
"He doesn't need to draw any more to himself. It's already there."