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Skinner believes future is bright with Sabres

Forward, who signed eight-year contract June 7, says team is going in 'right direction'

by Heather Engel / NHL.com Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Jeff Skinner saw enough in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres to believe in their future.

As a result, Skinner, who could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, signed an eight-year, $72 million contract ($9 million average annual value) to remain with Buffalo on June 7.

"There are some pretty talented players that are pretty young that are going to get better as they get older," Skinner said. "When you look at the start we had, I know that we sort of ran into a speed bump there and didn't finish off the way we did, but I don't think that takes away from that part of the season where we did go on a bit of a run and we had a fair bit of success. Those are the kinds of things that point to the right direction.

"When you look at the overall organization, the position that it's in with the talent it has and the players it has and for me, personally, how I've seen those people work together, there's a lot of positive signs there."

 

[RELATED: Skinner signing first part of Sabres' plan to end playoff drought]

 

The forward led the Sabres with an NHL career-high 40 goals this season and tied his NHL career high with 63 points, which ranked third on the team behind forwards Jack Eichel (82 points) and Sam Reinhart (65). Defensemen Rasmus Dahlin (44) and Rasmus Ristolainen (43) were fourth and fifth, respectively, and all but Skinner are younger than 25 (Eichel, 22; Reinhart, 23; Dahlin, 19; Ristolainen, 24).

Buffalo, which hasn't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011, began the season 20-9-5, including tying its record with a 10-game winning streak from Nov. 8-27, and was in second place in the Atlantic Division. However, they struggled in the second half and fired coach Phil Housley on April 7 after finishing 33-39-10, 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.

Ralph Krueger was hired as coach May 15 and in the weeks that followed, had a lengthy introductory phone conversation with Skinner that left a lasting impression.

"The thing that sticks out is his excitement, just his genuine excitement to be in Buffalo and get things rolling," Skinner said. "As a player, I think that's the kind of thing that excites you. When a coach has that, when your leader has that, it can be kind of infectious and spread from him on down."

Video: Friedman talks Skinner signing contract with Sabres

Skinner, who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 2, 2018, admitted it was a bit of a shock to move on from Carolina, where he'd played his first eight NHL seasons, but in the end, it turned out to be the right fit when he looked at the big picture after the season. 

"When you go through this process, you kind of try and weigh what's important to you and then within that list, you weigh the pros and cons within an organization. For me, the top things on my list were all the positive things about Buffalo," he said. "Right at the top, I want to win, I want to play on a competitive team. I think that with the players we have, that's a realistic thing to think. Then you sort of go down the list on living situation, how your family's going to be affected, all those things. I think they line up positively. How you're going to fit in with the community, how you fit into a locker room, which for me, fortunately, I had a year to sort of try it out. I think everything was positive and that's why we ended up where we did."

But Skinner knows that a new contract brings with it even greater expectations. He won't shy away from those, and he will use the summer to continue to develop his game for the upcoming season.

"I don't think I'm different than any athlete, really. You expect to keep getting better," Skinner said. "You put pressure on yourself to perform and you hold yourself to a high standard. For me, that's not going to change. That's a mindset. … I know there's going to be more expectations, there's going to be talk about it in the media and stuff like that but for me, I just focus on playing, I focus on getting better, starting with the summer. 

"You go back, you look at your game, try to improve as much you can and come into camp prepared. We'll come together as a team in camp and get to work on our goal."

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