wants to be counted on in the clutch and wants the puck in critical situations. He also knows he'll be a marked man from the outset this season.
Really, though, nothing has changed for the reigning Calder Trophy winner since earning a ticket to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. Opposing coaches know of his ability -- the flash, feistiness and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Carolina Hurricanes
notch a win.
One of the most intriguing questions entering the 2011-12 season is what can Skinner do for an encore?
"Just be himself and play," Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford told NHL.com. "He's a smart enough player to figure it out. There's no question he'll get a lot more attention than the first half of last season, but he got a lot of attention in the second half, so really he's dealt with it.
"Now he'll deal with it right off the bat, but he's smart and one of those players who likes that responsibility. It drives him even more when he's getting more attention, and he just ramps it up even more."
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When asked what surprised him most about Skinner's breakout rookie season, Rutherford pointed to his consistency.
"There was never a drop-off point for him, and for a player that age, you usually see peaks and valleys in their first season," Rutherford said. "There weren't any valleys. This is a player that was consistent from Day 1. He was always a factor in every game and that was part of his preparation. He was so well-prepared physically and mentally."
The Hurricanes selected Skinner with the seventh pick of the 2010 Entry Draft and he was the League's top rookie despite being the League's youngest full-time player last season. His first-half performance earned him a berth in the All-Star Game, which was played in Raleigh, N.C. He led all rookies in scoring with 63 points; his 32 assists were second, and his 31 goals were third. He connected for his 30th goal of the season April 6 against Detroit, becoming the seventh-youngest player in NHL history to reach the milestone (18 years, 325 days).
How big a bull's-eye does he feel will be on his back entering his second season?
"I think that sort of thing comes with the territory," Skinner told NHL.com. "You want to be a guy who is sort of counted on and plays in all situations of the game and in the games when it matters most. To be a player like that, you'll kind of be marked by the other team and you just have to try and fight through it. I think that's what drives a lot of players. I'm looking forward to the challenge and I think as a team we've gotten better and I'm excited to start the season."
Skinner said he doesn't have any personal goals coming into the season; he just goes out and does the best possible job he can.
"I never really put numbers on something heading into the year," he said. "I think it just becomes a distraction. I'll just go in and try to help the team win. It's a long season, so we'll try to deal with the ups and downs as best we can and hopefully we can get there."
To help him get there, Skinner spent the summer working out with Gary Roberts
"You want to be a guy who is sort of counted on and plays in all situations of the game and in the games when it matters most. To be a player like that, you'll kind of be marked by the other team and you just have to try and fight through it. I think that's what drives a lot of players. I'm looking forward to the challenge." -- Jeff Skinner
"My offseason has been a little less busy since I wasn't involved in any of the Canadian conditioning camps or World Junior camps or Traverse City," Skinner said. "I've been sort of lying low, just trying to work out and get on the ice a little bit. I've been in the gym and getting stronger and faster. Now it's a matter of getting on the ice and improving in all areas."
As much of a splash as Skinner made in his first season, he said it wouldn't have been possible without the leadership offered by teammate Eric Staal
"I learned a ton from watching him," Skinner said of the Hurricanes' captain. "Just by watching the way he carries himself on and off the ice. I was happy I got to learn about the things he does away from the rink, and then obviously what he does on the ice; the huge workload he carries for us and the way he leads us every night is pretty special to watch. So just watching how he goes about his business every day are the things I tried to imitate and sort of take away from his game and add to mine."
Staal led the Hurricanes last season with 33 goals, 43 assists and 76 points. It was his highest point total since 2007-08.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last two seasons, it's pretty obvious to Skinner the importance of qualifying for the 2012 postseason.
"The goal is to make the playoffs every season, so it was really disappointing the way it ended last year," Skinner said. "I think that's going to sort of leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth going into the season. It'll motivate us to be better."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale