Markham native Jeff Skinner moved one step closer to playing in the NHL on Tuesday when he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Skinner, the Canes’ seventh overall pick in 2010, led the Kitchener Rangers in scoring last year with 50 goals and 90 points while torching the opposition for another 20 goals in 20 playoff games.
While Skinner looked like a long shot to make the jump in his first year at the time he was drafted, his play in the NHL Traverse City Prospects Tournament last week turned a few heads.
“He does things that not many players can do,” Hurricanes president and GM Jim Rutherford told hurricanes.com. “He has a very special talent and plays with so much determination when that game is on the line because he wants to win.”
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound centre will get the chance to make his mark against NHL competition right away when the Hurricanes open their preseason schedule against the Florida Panthers Tuesday in Carolina.
Upon being drafted, the biggest knock against Skinner was his skating. But after spending the summer training with fitness guru Gary Roberts, Canes’ coach Paul Maurice has noticed significant improvement.
“Jeff Skinner may actually be a little more physically advanced [than Eric Staal in his rookie year],” he told hurricanes.com. “This guy is pretty powerful and has such a great skating stride.”
Despite the opportunity at hand, Skinner still has to prove that he belongs and must have a strong showing at training camp if he plans on suiting up opening night against the Minnesota Wild.
Having inked a contract the same day he is set to lace up for his first NHL game hasn’t fazed the 18-year-old, despite the added expectations.
”I don’t know if I’d say it’s pressure,” Skinner told hurricanes.com. “I obviously realize the chance they’ve taken on me and I really appreciate it. I’m going to do my best to play as well as I can and hopefully prove them right.”
The move also leaves questions marks for the Rangers, as Skinner’s promotion could leave a major void in their offence, and potentially hamper Kitchener’s chances at making a run at the Memorial Cup.
Kitchener is widely considered to be a serious contender in the OHL this season, but with both Skinner and 47-goal-scorer Jeremy Morin looking unlikely to return to junior, there is a noticeable gap on the Rangers top line.
That should leave plenty of opportunity for Swedish sensation Gabriel Landeskog and rookie Matia Marcantuoni, a highly touted prospect out of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, to fill the void left by Kitchener’s departed stars.
But for Skinner, his focus lies clearly in front of him as the fate of his immediate career depends entirely on his play over the next two weeks.
“It’s definitely an exciting day,” Skinner told hurricanes.com. “I just wanted to get it out of the way so I can focus on playing hockey.”