OAKVILLE, Ontario -- Jeff Skinner will have only one focus heading into training camp in September with the Buffalo Sabres: ending their eight-season Stanley Cup Playoff drought.
"To get in the playoffs, that should be the goal," the 27-year-old forward said at the NHLPA Golf Classic at Glen Abbey Golf Club on Thursday. "The (Atlantic) division is pretty tough with some pretty good teams in there who all have good players, but that's the NHL. Every night, any team has a chance to win, and you have to try to find that consistency and come out on the right side of those one-goal games to get yourself set up in a good position to push for a playoff spot. That will be our mindset going into camp."
The Sabres were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the NHL on Nov. 30 this season but went 16-32-7 over their final 55 games and finished 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
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Despite the disappointing end to the season and the ability to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, Skinner on June 7 signed an eight-year, $72 million contract (average annual value of $9 million) to remain with the Sabres.
He said after playing one season with Buffalo's young core, including center Jack Eichel, 22, forward Sam Reinhart, 23, and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 19, he knows success is not far off.
"The young pieces we have here are great," Skinner said. "When you look at the League now, it's so tight and you can't really pick a favorite going into the season, but when you look at the organization, how it's set up and run from the ownership and management point of view, and then you look at the young pieces, there are some pretty great young players here with a lot of talent. I'm just looking to be a piece of the puzzle, but that young core is definitely an attractive thing for guys who are looking to sign here."
Skinner scored an NHL career-high 40 goals and matched his career high for points with 63 (2010-11, 2016-17) in his first season with the Sabres after being acquired in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 2, 2018.
"I got a year to see what it was like and experience the organization, get to know the staff, get to know my teammates, and everything was positive," Skinner said. "When you get into the [offseason], you get a chance to reflect on the year and go into the process and try to prioritize the things you want to check off your list, and Buffalo checked off all those things."
Skinner has not met Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, who was hired May 15 to replace Phil Housley, but was excited by a phone conversation the two had earlier in the month.
"His passion and enthusiasm and energy coming into Buffalo really stood out in our talk," Skinner said. "When you look at his resume, he's obviously extremely intelligent and has a lot of experience in a lot of different areas and some pretty good experience in some pressure situations, which is nice to see."