Left wing, Jeff Skinner
DOB: May 16, 1992 (age, 26)
Draft: 2010, 7th-overall (CAR)
How acquired: Trade with Carolina, August 2, 2018
Last contract signed: August 8, 2012 6yr./$34.350 million
Final year of contract: 2018-19
2018-19 Stats: 82 games | 40 goals | 23 assists | 63 points | even | 18:31 ATOI
Career Stats: 661 games | 241 goals | 198 assists | 442 points | -95 | 17:17 ATOI
What we wrote preseason: After taking the NHL, and Carolina, by storm as an 18 year old scoring 31 goals and 63 points while on his way to 2011 Rookie of the Year honors, Skinner continued make his mark as a goal-scorer posting a total 204 goals in 579 games over his eight seasons playing for the 'Canes. However, despite his individual successes Carolina hasn't made the playoff in nine seasons and their new owner with a new front office decided change was needed. That included Skinner, a fan favorite. The seventh-overall pick in 2010 was put on the block this summer after it was clear that he wouldn't be signing a contract extension with the team.
It's no secret that Buffalo has been the worst scoring team in the NHL for quite a while. In the last five years the three-time last place finishers averaged a league-worst 2.19 goals/game which included being the only team to finish a season under two goals per game. And they did so twice in a row (2013-14, 2014-15.) It was also no secret that heading into the off season the Sabres had a gaping hole at left wing. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill filled it partially when he traded for Pittsburgh Penguins left winger Conor Sheary, a player he'd watched up close as a part of the Penguins front office, but the trade for Skinner was on another level.
Where he plays in the lineup will be dependent upon training camp and what kind of chemistry is built within the top six leading up to the regular season. The book on Skinner is that he likes the puck on his stick, has the speed, wicked maneuverability and stickwork to get into prime scoring areas and, obviously, has the skill-level to finish. Whether that meshes better with Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt is yet to be determined but for at least this year, no matter which line he's on, the Sabres have themselves a true goal-scorer on the left side.
What we wrote mid-season: When Botterill mentioned Skinner's scoring at even strength, he wasn't kidding. The three-time 30-goal scorer is presently second in the league with 26 goals with 21 of them coming at even strength, which is also second in the league. Skinner already beat his 24 goals from last season and he's on pace to shatter his career high of 37 set in 2016-17. The guy most definitely has a deft touch around the net but the most fascinating part of his game might be his skating. Skinner learned figure skating as a young lad and as we've been lucky enough to see through 37 games in the Blue and Gold, he uses those skills to advantageously square himself to the play. In the offensive zone it's proven to be deadly. The chemistry between him and Eichel is unmistakable.
Impressions on his play this year: Everything we heard about Skinner is true. His figure-skating background allows extensive maneuverability in tight quarters, which is often found around the net, he squares himself to the play and can finish. Botterill talked of Skinner and his propensity to score at even strength and he was proven correct. Of Skinner's career-high 40 goals this season, 32 of them came at even strength which placed him fifth in the league.
In Buffalo we've had the opportunity to see his skating and his goal-scoring up close for a full 82-game season but an underrated aspect to Skinner's game is his moxie. No matter the situation, the 26 yr. old Skinner plays the game with confidence and an edge that has him chirping and butting heads with whomever draws his ire in the heat of the moment. But, he doesn't take stupid penalties (34 PIM) and when it comes time for the puck drop, he's gets back to the task at hand.
A lot has been said here in hockeybuzz threads about Skinner "disappearing when the team needed him most." He went 13 games without a goal from February 17 to March 14 and went goal-less for another eight games after finally scoring against his former team. Buffalo went 3-16-2 during that stretch in a dismal run that obliterated any hope of reaching the playoffs. However, Skinner pumped 73 shots on goal during that span, an average of 3.32 shots/game which was a hair above his season average of 3.27 shots/gm. Was Skinner choking under the pressure of a playoff run? Or was his goal drought more a product of the puck not finding the back of the net? That debate will rage on in chat rooms and social media but the two big questions facing Skinner and the Buffalo Sabres are...
Questions moving forward: Will he re-sign in Buffalo and if so, what will the price be?
Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.