For anyone catching up, a menu of previous player (and also coaching and GM) report cards can be found at the bottom of the article.
Jeff Skinner’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Jeff Skinner entered the 2016-17 season on an upward trajectory coming out of the 2015-16 season. After a sub-par 2014-15 season that saw Skinner’s scoring plummet to only 31 points in 77 games, he rebounded strongly. On a Hurricanes team that finished 27th out of 30 teams in goal scoring, Jeff Skinner boosted his goal scoring from 18 to 28 and his point total from 31 to 51. The totals were not overly impressive as measured against the league’s elite scorers, but they were a big step up for Skinner, the best on a team that struggled to score and a simultaneous resurgence and step back in the right direction. Also impressive was Skinner’s reaction after the trade of long-time captain Eric Staal in late February. Skinner was the player who most notably lifted his game down the stretch. He was rewarded for his season and also post-Staal uprising by being named an alternate captain just before the start of the 2016-17 season.
Jeff Skinner’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner entered the 2016-17 season with a greater role and more responsibility. As mentioned above, the 24-year old wily veteran on a young team had a new leadership role. In addition, with the departure of two-thirds (Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg) of previous season’s top scoring line, the duo of Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask was suddenly the core of the Hurricanes’ top scoring line that balanced out Jordan Staal’s top checking line.
Veteran Lee Stempniak filled out Skinner’s line and the trio started fast. Jeff Skinner surged out of the gate to the tune of 5 goals and 6 assists in 7 games in October. The start included a goal and an assist in a strong game to pull out the team’s first win in the fourth game of the season and a pseudo-hat trick (the third goal was later changed to Bickell on a deflection) in the home opener. Skinner still finished that game with 2 goals and an assist. By the end of October, Skinner had exceeded even optimistic hopes for what he might do when challenged in a leadership role and also facing tougher match ups in a higher slot in the lineup.
Noticeable in Skinner’s early scoring surge was his one-man show skill set that saw him play a ton with the puck on his stick and both create and finish his own chances. This aspect of Skinner’s game has always been a double-edged sword for me. On the positive side (which importantly outweighs the negative), this ability gives Skinner the ability to score almost regardless of line mates. His goal scoring is not dependent on having a playmaking center to create high-quality scoring chances for him nor is it dependent upon having a specific skill set or type of player on his line. He just needs a decent volume of time in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick and the offense happens. The downside (again outweighed by the positive), I do not often see Skinner as the type of player who regularly finds chemistry and gets a boost offensively from line mates. We have not seen Jeff Skinner play with anything close to a playmaking center since the days of Jussi Jokinen, but my hunch is that Skinner’s scoring might not leap as much as hoped if paired with a higher-end playmaker who is similarly accustomed to playing with the puck on his stick and distributing it. And though line mates do benefit from riding Skinner’s coat tails, it is not clear that he has the ability to boost his line mates to a significantly higher level. When I net it out, Skinner’s ability to score 55-65 points almost regardless of what he has for help is tremendous for balancing scoring across the forward lines. Even if he does nothing more than that, that contribution is a huge positive. But I feel like reaching the next level scoring-wise will require an element of chemistry and complementary play. From what I have seen from Jeff Skinner in the past few seasons, I am unsure whether he can hit an even higher level with help, but I fully acknowledge that it is difficult to predict since the Hurricanes have not had much higher-end offensive talent for Skinner to try to mesh with.
But I digress…
Skinner finished the first quarter of the 2016-17 season with an impressive 9 goals and 10 assists in 20 games and quickly established himself as the team’s offensive leader. Scoring challenges for the Hurricanes (more on other lines than Skinner’s) saw early and fairly regular reshuffling of the forward lines. The Skinner/Rask combination mostly remained intact, but the right wing slot saw a handful of combinations shuffle in and shuffle out. Skinner’s offensive production slowed somewhat in the second quarter of the season that saw him net 6 goals and 7 assists in 20 games played.
In a generally strong season, the one negative was that when the team struggled and saw its season slip away in the front part of 2017, Jeff Skinner struggled to help. During a 5-game losing streak in January, Skinner was scoreless, and during another 5-game losing streak in February, he netted only 2 goals and no assists. In total for the third quarter of the season, Skinner posted a fairly modest 5 goals and 4 assists in 19 games while the Hurricanes went 7-11-3 (Skinner missed 2 of the 21 games) and fell out of playoff contention.
But giving credit where it is due, Jeff Skinner and his teammates did not quit on the 2016-17 early. The team rallied with a 13-game point streak in March to claw within inches of a playoff spot, and Jeff Skinner was right in the middle of the push. He finished on a torrid scoring run with 17 goals and 5 assists in the final 20 games of the season.
When the dust settled on the 2016-17 season, Jeff Skinner’s massive scoring binge down the stretch pushed him to a career high 37 goals and also a career high of 63 points (tying his rookie season). The 37 goals ranked Skinner sixth in the entire NHL, very clearly in the elite category, and the 63 points tied him for 32nd in total points. He also showed a propensity to find a higher gear and put the team on his back for games or even a couple stretches of games. His play in the home opener when the Hurricanes desperately needed a win and also his offensive leadership in March clearly demonstrate Jeff Skinner’s ability to play at an elite level.
In total, Jeff Skinner’s 2016-17 season was a huge success in terms of taking on a leadership role and increasing his scoring significantly despite stepping into a higher role in the lineup.
Grading Jeff Skinner
Graded as: Leader and top offensive producer.
Grade: A-. Grading Jeff Skinner as anything less than a plain A is certain to yield some disagreement, and I fully understand the case for eliminating the minus. But I am giving Jeff Skinner an A- for two reasons. First, his massive scoring outburst came after the cause was lost for the Hurricanes’ 2016-17 season (as proven by the fact that even a nearly perfect run by the team was still not enough). Through three quarters of the season when the Hurricanes were still legitimately in (or trying to get into) the playoff chase, Skinner’s scoring pace was a respectable but modest 27 goals and 55 points. When the team needed to find a few wins to hold things together in January and February, Skinner, like the team in total, did not have an answer. Put about 8 more of Skinner’s 17 goals down the stretch in the third quarter of the season, and I give him an A. Second, I still think there is another level of maturation to Skinner’s game that sees him better able to not just produce but be able to boost his line mates more and also allow them to boost him. This is a common trait among the truly elite scoring forwards. If Jeff Skinner never adds this element of chemistry/complementary play to his game, he will still be a great scorer and offensive forward, but I think this last step in the maturation of his game offensively is what is necessary to vault him from 60-65 points to the 70-90 range.
Looking forward to 2017-18
At a basic level, the Hurricanes will be looking for more of the same from Jeff Skinner. Something in the neighborhood of 30 goals and 60 points would be a basic target ideally with a little upside from there especially if the team improves offensively. At a broader level, Jeff Skinner must be the driver of one of at least two lines that do the heavy lifting scoring-wise. Finally, with the team still getting younger, Skinner will be among the group of veterans who must provide leadership and help the group push upward and find a way into the 2018 NHL playoffs.
What say you Canes fans?
Am I completely nuts to tack a minus on Jeff Skinner’s grade for a season with 37 goals and a career high 63 points? Or is it fair to want just a little more when the team really needed it?
What do you think of my assessment of Jeff Skinner’s ‘one man show’ skill set? Do you think I am right for recent years? If so, do you think it is actually Skinner’s style of play or just a function of not having enough high-end offensive talent to help him?
What do you expect/hope from Jeff Skinner for 2017-18? Is even more possible as the team improves? Or should we just be content with 60-65 points and his growing leadership role?
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