TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- It was only last season that forward Jeff Skinner
and defenseman John Moore
were heating up the ice as teammates for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Skinner was in his second season with the Rangers while Moore, a steady influence for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2008-09, was a first-year force along the blue line.
Together, they helped lead the Rangers to the Western Conference finals against the Windsor Spitfires, where they lost a dramatic seven-game series to the eventual OHL champion. In 20 playoff games, Moore had 4 goals and 12 assists, while Skinner erupted for 20 goals and 13 assists.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Moore told NHL.com. "It was everything I could ask for and then some. The coaching staff was tremendous to play for and the fans were great. We had an unbelievable run, too, but unfortunately it had to end the way it did. It was a pretty tough pill to swallow."
At least they'll have teamed up for one season. The odds both players return to Kitchener this fall aren't very good since either one or both could be earning their ticket to the big show this season.
Moore, chosen by the Columbus Blue Jackets
with the 21st pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, barely missed the cut right out of training camp last season, and looks faster and stronger entering 2010-11. Skinner, who the Carolina Hurricanes
took at No. 7 in June, already is turning the heads of the Hurricanes' management team.
"He's prepared himself properly from a strength point of view to play in our League this year," Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford said. "He's got the skill level and the determination, so he's a guy who will have a really good chance at making our team."
They both looked pretty calm and composed during the early stages of the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament for their respective teams this week.
The former teammates will have an opportunity to renew acquaintances on the ice when the Hurricanes' prospects battle the Blue Jackets' youngsters Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
"We got along really well (in Kitchener) and Jeff is a great kid -- he always has a smile on his face," Moore said. "He competes and pushes everyone to be better. We were pretty close and hung out a lot outside the rink. It's going to be fun to play against him, that's for sure. I kind of know all the tricks he has up his sleeve."
Skinner will remember Moore's professionalism at such a young age.
"He was a great teammate and he has gotten bigger," Skinner said. "He's played well in this tournament and I thought he looked really good. I only got to spend one season with him, but he's such a great teammate and, for his age, such a professional. He carries himself top notch. I don't know too many guys in major junior who carry themselves the way he does. He treats his body right and treats his teammates well. Good things are going to happen to him just by the way he carries himself."
Moore certainly feels and looks a lot more comfortable in his second go-round in Traverse City this year.
"The second time around, things are a little easier because you know what to expect," Moore said. "It's not as much of a whirlwind, but it's the same approach and that's to win. You put your best foot forward and show the staff what you can do going into main camp."
Columbus GM Scott Howson expects Moore to make a serious push for a spot on the NHL roster this season.
"He had a strong camp last season … surprisingly strong," Howson said. "It'll get sorted out here in the next two or three weeks, but I would expect he'll push for a position. John is as committed a young man as I know in terms of trying to improve. He moved to Columbus in June and started working with our trainer and has worked his tail off. He's put on some weight and grown a bit since we drafted him."
Moore was given a strict workout regimen by Blue Jackets strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins over the summer. He added 12 pounds and looks to be in the best shape of his career.
"He's prepared himself properly from a strength point of view to play in our League this year. He's got the skill level and the determination, so he's a guy who will have a really good chance at making our team." -- Jim Rutherford
"I put on some weight but I still feel quick and haven't lost too much speed," Moore said. "I feel like I actually gained speed. When you're in the NHL playing against grown men, they're big men. It's not like major junior where you have the scrawny 16-17 year olds coming out on the forecheck. It's the grown 25- to 30-year-old men who are going to put you through the glass, so you need to be physically competitive. Everyone in pro hockey takes a lot of pride in strength and conditioning, and that's just part of the process."
Skinner, whose summer regimen included workouts with retired hockey forward Gary Roberts
, is hoping to make an impression in Traverse City before entering main camp. Skinner's program included four days at Roberts' facility for muscle training and two days of cardio -- also prescribed by Roberts -- on his own.
"Anytime you go to a camp, you're trying to make a team," Skinner said. "That's what my mindset is going to (training camp) -- I'm trying to make a hockey club. I'm just going to work my hardest and see if they think I can fit in. I'm not worried about the future because all I have to worry about is right now -- how I play the next game."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice
just was glad to see Skinner having fun.
"What I think I liked most was the way he was having fun out there," Maurice said. "He's got a smile on his face and tongue hanging out. He's a young guy who's not out there on pins and needles worrying about making a mistake. He's trying to create with the puck and I think that's great."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale