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Skinner to play against Hurricanes for first time with Sabres

Forward traded this offseason on pace for NHL career high in goals

by Heather Engel / NHL.com Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Jeff Skinner doesn't know what to expect. 

The Buffalo Sabres forward will play against his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, for the first time at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN, FS-CR, MSG-B, NHL.TV).

Skinner, who played his first eight NHL seasons for Carolina before being traded to Buffalo for forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks Aug. 2, said he thinks the game will be fun but may not be that easy.

"There'll definitely be some emotions, but it's just part of the game, part of life," Skinner said. "You just have to find a way to channel it and use some of it to your advantage. Other than that, just focus on the game because we've got a big job in front of us."

 

[RELATED: Eichel could return for Sabres against Hurricanes]

 

Sabres coach Phil Housley has been in Skinner's skates. Housley played his first nine NHL seasons for Buffalo before playing his first game against them for the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 4, 1991.

"You can prepare all you want for it, but until you get there and you get on the ice and you're facing your ex-teammates, it gets a little emotional," Housley said. "He's going to have to manage that.

"We know the importance of this game for him, so we're going to try to do everything possible for him to help him through it. But at the same time, it can be an exciting time. He's done a terrific job, is a good teammate here, contributing offensively, doing everything that we asked of him. We're going to give him the full support he needs going into Carolina."

Video: NJD@BUF: Skinner picks the corner from the circle

Skinner, selected by the Hurricanes with the No. 7 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, said he didn't know what to expect when he was traded to the Sabres.

Everyone's been "super welcoming," he said. "It's been fun so far."

It's been a seamless fit, playing most of the season on Jack Eichel's left wing. Skinner leads the Sabres with 29 goals, tied for second in the NHL with Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares, three behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, and is second on Buffalo with 42 points (Eichel has 49).

Skinner is on pace for 55 goals and 80 points, which would surpass his previous NHL highs (37 goals in 2016-17 and 63 points in 2010-11 and 2016-17).

"When you get to play with a guy that talented and that skilled, he makes the game a little bit easier for his linemates," Skinner said of Eichel. "The first thing when you play with any new linemate is you try to build chemistry and communicate. When you play with a guy like that, sometimes that process gets accelerated because he's so smart and he's able to adapt so quickly.

"Getting to be around a guy like that every day and see what he does in practice and every game, it's pretty fun to watch."

Jason Pominville also knows what Skinner is going through. After playing 578 NHL games for the Sabres, he returned to Buffalo and scored for the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 14, 2013. Traded back to the Sabres before last season, he had an assist against the Wild on Nov. 22, 2017.

"Embrace the moment, enjoy it," Pominville said. "He'll prepare the same way he usually does. He'll get some chirps here and there, guys will be all over him [Friday]; actually, it started [Thursday], but it's fun. Guys like it, appreciate it. Once it's over with, you can move on, but that first game is always pretty special."

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