A seemingly odd question given his meager score sheet production
With 3 goals and only 4 points in 17 games that might seem like an odd question. But it comes from looking at his history and game at a deeper level than scoring totals. The scoring needs to come, but despite recent struggles, I think that is the lesser concern. The bigger thing entering this season was the nagging question of if he could ever become a good enough 2-way player to be more than a raw scorer who was break even at best in terms of winning hockey games. And that is where a closer inspection of his game past the top line numbers is encouraging.
On the surface 2015-16 looks similar to 2014-15
Like many Carolina Hurricanes, Jeff Skinner had a disappointing 2014-15 season. He finished with only 18 goals and 31 points which is sub-par for a player with elite scoring ability. On top of that, he made only sporadic progress rounding out his 2-way game. When you net it out, his offense was down, and his defense was still very much a work in progress.
On the surface, his 2015-16 season has been similarly challenging. His 3 goals and 4 points is actually a slower pace than the disappointing 2014-15 season which is obviously heading in the wrong direction.
Better all-around play
But when you watch Jeff Skinner in detail on a game by game basis, I think there are signs that Jeff Skinner is making progress as an all-around player. He did have a decision-making ‘oops’ in the Minnesota game when he correctly stepped back to fill the point spot vacated by a pinching defenseman, but then got fancy with the puck at his offensive blue line and turned it over for an odd man rush the other way. But that bad decision was an anomaly for Jeff Skinner this season who has been much better defensively and making sound risk/reward type decisions with the puck on his stick. I know it is uncool to even mention plus/minus these days, but I actually think that it can have some use when used with proper context. Jeff Skinner’s plus 1 so far this season stands out as very different both to his own play in past seasons that often saw him near the bottom for Hurricanes players. It also stands out among his team mates putting him behind only Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg who are both plus 2. Overall, the Hurricanes are minus 14 even strength goals on the season, so any kind of positive is better than what the team is doing on average. I think this is even more impressive when you consider that his scoring is light which means that the other team is not scoring much when he is on the ice.
The offense is there more than the stats indicate
Ultimately to be a difference-maker, Jeff Skinner needs to score goals and/or help line mates score goals. He is not doing that, so at the highest level Skinner is not getting it done. But when you look at scoring more as a step-wise process, the picture is much more favorable. Jeff Skinner is regularly taking pucks from opponents to help drive possession. He is going to the front of the net. And especially lately, he is getting a ton of high-end scoring chances NOT the ‘enter the offensive zone 1v1 and fire a long distance and unscreened shot’ variety. He has 4 posts in the past 2 games to go with 17 shots on goal over the past 3 games. Everything is there except for the finishing. Of all of the things that could concern me about Jeff Skinner’s game, the probability of him going the whole season doing the right things and getting a good number of quality scoring chances and not scoring is not 1 of them.
Is he on the brink of a break through that includes the score sheet but is much bigger?
I continue to think that his game is at a potentially delicate crossroads but much more positive than negative. The risk for him is that if the goals do not come, he starts pressing and reverts back to old ways of making bad risk/reward decisions in a quest to score. If he can stay the course in terms of what he is doing overall and continue going to places where goals happen, I think they will come. And when they come, I think they will come in bunches.
Here is hoping he can stay the course a bit longer and catch a break or 2 finishing-wise to get the scoring on track while continuing to make positive strides in other areas of his game.