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Botterill thrilled to add 'consistent goal scorer' in Skinner

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Since the conclusion of last season and over the course of a busy summer, Jason Botterill has been forthcoming when assessing the Buffalo Sabres. Among the areas he's mentioned as needing to improve: depth on the wing, speed, even-strength scoring and, in a broader sense, the culture in the dressing room. 

Listening to Botterill speak on Thursday night, it was evident that he believes Buffalo's latest acquisition checks all those boxes. The Sabres acquired forward Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in 2019, and third- and sixth-round picks in 2020.

One word stood out as Botterill discussed the deal with the media: consistent. 

"I respect his work ethic a lot off the ice, just his professionalism, how he goes about handling himself," Botterill said. "He comes to camp in great shape, a true professional from that standpoint. 

"… He's a consistent goal scorer in the National Hockey League. He creates a lot of chances at even strength and I think he's really going to complement our talented centers."

Skinner, 26, has put his offensive abilities on display ever since breaking into the league with a 63-point campaign (31+32) in 2010-11. His point totals have landed between 49 and 63 in four of the last five seasons, the exception being a 31-point campaign in 2014-15.

Skinner scored a career-high 37 goals in 2016-17, his third time reach the 30-goal plateau. Though his production dipped to 24 goals last season, he posted a career-best plus-228 differential in five-on-five shot attempts. In fact, Skinner has posted a positive shot attempt differential at even strength in each of his eight NHL seasons.

"Look at the consistency that he's had over the past couple of years, it's been very impressive," Botterill said. "Just his consistent ability to create chances out there. ... Goal totals are going to go up and down, but if you look, he creates chances at even strength. That's what really gets us excited about bringing him into our mix."

Skinner is the latest in a long line of acquisitions made this summer, leaving the Sabres with a remodeled roster compared to last spring. Through trades alone, the Sabres have added forwards Conor Sheary, Patrick Berglund, Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka as well as veteran defenseman Matt Hunwick.

Through it all, only one player with NHL experience - Ryan O'Reilly - was traded from Buffalo. The Sabres remain well-stocked when it comes to draft capital as well, set to pick up to three times in the first round next summer (the third pick is conditional on San Jose making the playoffs). 

"We're excited about the speed that we've added to our group," Botterill said. "We're excited about the youth that we've added to our group here. And we've always talked about it, you're trying to find that balance of bringing in leadership, bringing in players who know how to have success in the National Hockey League while still looking at the future. That's what excited us about this acquisition."

Given Skinner's speed and shooting ability, it's natural to picture him playing alongside one of Buffalo's two young, playmaking centers in Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt. Botterill said he shares that vision, but more than anything seemed pleased to have given coach Phil Housley options when it comes to the lineup.

In addition to trade acquisitions, Botterill also expects Kyle Okposo to benefit from having a complete offseason of training. On defense, the addition of first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin as well as having a healthy Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe should help the Sabres move the puck up the ice with speed.  

All of it, Botterill hopes, will add up to a more competitive season.

"I think the best part of our sport right now is the parity that's in the National Hockey League," he said. "You always have an opportunity at the start of the year. Now we've made quite a few adjustments to our team and we're excited about those changes and excited about some of the young players that are coming into our group. Now it's important that our guys step up." 

As it stands, Skinner is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the season, but the Sabres do have reason for optimism. Skinner had a full no-trade clause in Carolina, and Buffalo was on a short list of teams he was willing to approve a trade to. 

That said, Botterill is in no rush to negotiate an extension. For now, the team's priority is to allow the forward to get comfortable in his new surroundings. 

"I think whenever you're going to have success in changing things … you have to have players that are excited about being in your city," Botterill said. "You see that with Rasmus Dahlin, you see it with Jack last year making the commitment to Buffalo, and now you're seeing it with Jeff coming in here.

"They're excited, they want to be a part of Buffalo. They want to be a part of things with the Sabres organization."

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