Jeff Skinner was just two years old when he took the ice for the first time.

Unlike other children his age, Skinner didn’t take small steps in his skates, but instead immediately started striding down the ice.

His parents, Andy Skinner and Elisabeth Campin, watched as their son faced the new challenge with energy and determination.

“He’d fall down, but he didn’t want anyone to help him get up. He was just insisting on getting up himself,” Campin said. “Jeffrey was a high, high-energy child, but very determined. He was always wanting to master any new challenges, and that was very evident.”


Skinner’s determination and fearless attitude were just some of the many extraordinary attributes he revealed over the ensuing years as he paved his way to a long, illustrious career in the National Hockey League.

The forward will play his 1,000th NHL game when the Buffalo Sabres host the Washington Capitals at KeyBank Center on Tuesday, becoming the 47th active player to reach the milestone.

His longevity is a testament to the distinct qualities his parents recognized throughout his childhood and beyond: his unique skating ability, commitment to the game, and character.

“Essentially the same qualities that he displayed when he was small and then bigger and bigger, he continues to display those today,” Campin said. “He’s just a very special guy.”


Unique skating ability

Skinner's on-ice education began at a figure skating club that was offering a Learn to Skate program in Ontario. Once he graduated from the program, he decided he would follow in the footsteps of his older siblings and take on figure skating along with hockey and soccer.

As he took on that challenge, Skinner’s parents quickly realized that he had exceptional skating abilities.

“He has a low center of gravity and he has an extraordinary - what’s called a twitch reflex, which is the reflex that allows you to do spins,” Andy Skinner said.

Skinner began skating five days a week as a figure skater while competing in minor hockey. He went on to win a bronze medal in the juvenile division at the 2004 Skate Canada Junior Nationals before deciding to focus solely on hockey.


Campin and her husband didn’t see the NHL in Skinner’s future until he began playing for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

“We actually never ever thought of him going to the NHL until he was in the OHL and other people started to allude to this,” Campin said.

It was a strong second season in the OHL and his skating talent that allowed him to climb the NHL Central Scouting rankings. He scored 50 goals and recorded 90 points in 64 games for Kitchener leading up to the draft, adding 33 points (20+13) in 20 playoff games before getting drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes with the seventh-overall pick in 2010.

As an undersized player, Skinner’s skating experience gave him an edge that earned him a spot on the Hurricanes’ opening night roster at just 18 years old.

“He’s not the biggest guy in the world. He’s not the fastest guy in the world. But he does have edges that really give him a major advantage,” Andy Skinner said.

Who exactly is Jeff Skinner?

Skinner’s coach at the time, Paul Maurice, marveled at the rookie’s ability to evade defenders with his footwork and watched him get named to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game and later, take home the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, with 31 goals and 32 assists in his first season.

“He was such an unusual skater, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player like that,” Maurice said. “That whole idea of being able to open up 10-and-2 and change direction. I just remember in practice after he’d been with our team a little while and he had scored some goals with that move he has, all the guys were down in the corner trying it and none of them could do it. He is an elite skater and an unusual skater that I don’t know that the league has seen a player use that back-foot rutter the way he does.”

Maurice has seen many unique skaters in the NHL with his more than two decades of experience as a coach, but it was Skinner’s ability to use his skating and then tailor it into a plan of attack that still stands out to him to this day.

“It’s not just a straight line kind of skating idea,” Maurice said. “It’s a sideways, in-and-out, and buy time and open up ice for people around him, but also for himself. Again, I don’t know that I’ve seen a player skate like that.”

Commitment to the game

Skinner’s parents were busy raising six children who were in various sports, clubs, and activities. While the two committed their time and energy to being at every hockey game possible, they began to understand their son’s strong commitment to growth.

Campin remembers sitting in the stands with Skinner while watching his older sisters’ games, where he would often spend time pointing out specific plays and players to his mother, demonstrating his dedication to developing his vision and understanding of the game at a young age. Campin was in awe of Skinner’s impressive hockey IQ and vision and his ability to use his siblings’ games as learning opportunities to carry over into his own game.


“It comes down to, again, his desire to meet challenges,” Campin said. “If he could see someone else doing something, he wanted to be able to do the same thing. So, he wanted to meet that challenge and it comes back to the determination that he wasn’t going to give up until he could.”

Campin and her husband had a front-row view as their son’s goals and dreams began to come to fruition with every new challenge he faced and mastered. But they were still surprised when they saw Skinner make his NHL debut in the NHL Premiere Series in Helsinki, Finland as an 18 year old.

Skinner and the Hurricanes defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-3 in his debut before he recorded his first NHL point and scored the game-winning shootout goal to lift the Hurricanes to a 2-1 victory over the Wild the following day.

Maurice was just as impressed with the young forward, who began to be on every defenseman’s radar.

“Jeff had no fear in his game as a young player - to the point we’d almost be a little concerned about it,” Maurice said. “He would go into the heavy areas with lots of traffic and he somehow would come out with that puck.”

The league started to take notice of Skinner but his commitment to growth and constantly evolving his game never wavered.

“I think he’s a smart player and he adjusted and learned how to adapt in the National Hockey League,” Maurice said. “It wasn’t too long after NHL defensemen figured there was no way to play the puck on Jeff and stop him at the same time. So, it got very physical for him. For a player like that, he learned to make the adjustments where he could still produce at the same time. Jeff’s a very bright hockey player.”

Jeff Skinner addresses the media

Skinner had to endure injuries and slumps as well as the ups and downs of an NHL season, just like any other professional athlete would over the course of his or her career.

His father watched as he continued to put in work during the offseason and bye weeks to further develop his skills and maintain consistency in the NHL.

“Like a lot of hockey players, he’s had to deal with injuries, play through injuries, play through slumps,” Andy Skinner said. “But he’s always maintained a very positive attitude. He will never make an excuse. He would always say during his ups and downs in his career, ‘I’ve got to be better.’

“He’s also somebody who doesn’t believe in terms of skill development that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So, he’s always trying to push the envelope on his skill development. That’s his commitment and I think that kind of mindset has helped him.”

Skinner played eight seasons in Carolina, amassing 379 points (204+175) in 579 games before getting traded to Buffalo on Aug. 2, 2018. He tallied a career-high 40 goals and matched his career high of 63 points during the 2018-19 campaign.

The forward went on to shatter that point total during the 2022-23 season, when he recorded 82 points (35+47) in 79 games as the Sabres fell just one point shy of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Jeff's top goals in blue & gold

Sabres coach Don Granato believes Skinner’s success is a testament to the NHL veteran’s commitment to growth, the same quality his parents saw in him as a young child.

“He’s kind of invented and reinvented his game through the course of his career,” Granato said. “I know he’s mentioned how that’s happened, how he’s evolved his game as he’s aged and matured through the league. So, he has an appetite. He’s a rink rat-type player. He loves the game.”


Those who know Skinner best understand that there are many qualities that make him unique, but many would argue there are none more special than his character. The 31-year-old has captured the hearts of Sabres fans and his teammates with his smile, entertaining goal songs, and most recently, his “Between 2 Stalls” production.

“He’s someone who comes to the rink and even when he’s not scoring or playing what he thinks is his best, he’s always in a good mood and [has] a good attitude and I think that is important,” teammate Tage Thompson said. “You can’t bring outside negative stuff into the room and he does a good job of being positive and making everyone in a good mood.”


Skinner’s sense of humor and fun-loving personality have put smiles on faces but it's his humble attitude and ability to relate to both younger and older players that have allowed him to emerge as a quiet leader in the Sabres locker room.

Zach Benson, who made Buffalo’s opening night roster as an 18 year old, has been able to look up to Skinner, who went through a similar process during his rookie season.

“He’s actually a pretty serious guy,” Andy Skinner said. “He’s not the guy to give speeches in the dressing room - he’s not that kind of quote-unquote leader. But he is somebody the guys kind of relate to."

As Skinner continues to showcase his unique skating abilities, his commitment to the game, and his character as he takes the ice for his 1,000th game, his parents will always think back to the young boy who remained determined to overcome any obstacle in his way.

“I think we both truly believe that Jeff’s brightest years are still ahead of him because he’s just that special and that creative and that committed to doing the best he can in whatever he does," Andy Skinner said.