Jeff Skinner's dream season hits all-star peak

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. – It was only four-and-a-half months ago when Jeff Skinner(notes) showed up for training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes. The 18-year-old rookie walked into the dressing room one day, turned the corner and almost ran into 31-year-old veteran Erik Cole.

“You and I might play on a line for the next couple days,” Cole whispered.

“OK,” Skinner replied, smiling. “That’s good.”

“So wake up,” Cole barked.

Recalled Skinner: “I think I laughed. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or he was serious. I just sort of walked over to my sticks and started taping them. I remember on the ice later that day, I was pretty nervous passing him the puck.”

Wake up? Skinner might need to pinch himself now. He’s living a dream. And if he’s nervous, he sure isn’t showing it.

Skinner leads NHL rookies in scoring with 40 points, seven more than anyone else. He's the youngest player ever to be an NHL all-star, after being added as an injury replacement, and he will do it in his home rink in Raleigh on a team led by his Carolina captain, Eric Staal(notes).

Some say the All-Star Game has lost its luster. Well, look at it through the eyes of a teenager – and the eyes of all his squealing admirers.

The kid is so peach-cheeked that he shaved only once every two weeks until he got an electric razor recently. (“I have some hair,” he said. “It’s just not noticeable.”) He had never traveled to a game by air until he made the NHL in the fall. (“The plane’s pretty nice,” he said.)

But his boyish good looks and precocious play have made him so popular, they have prompted comparisons to both Justin Bieber and Sidney Crosby(notes).

“My 8-year-old granddaughter is absolutely star-struck by him,” Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos said.

She’s not the only one. Skinner attracted such a long line of autograph seekers at the NHL’s Fan Fair on Friday that officials had to cut it off. One girl held up a sign that said simply: “PROM?” His answer?

“No comment,” Skinner said with a bashful laugh. “I didn’t answer it, because I’m just trying to distance myself from high school right now. I just graduated. I don’t want to go back.”

* * * * *

It was only 14 years ago – while the captain of the opposing all-star team, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom(notes), was in his sixth NHL season – when Skinner was a 4-year-old playing house hockey in the Toronto area.

The boys had to take turns in goal back then. When Skinner was in net one game, he became bored when the play was at the other end of the ice. So he started skating around, and ended up inside the net and got his mask stuck in the mesh. Sure enough, the puck came his way.

“I stopped it,” Skinner said. “But I was in the net, so it was a goal.”

No more goaltending after that.

It was only 12 years ago when one of Skinner’s older sisters won a figure skating trophy, and he told his mother he wanted to win one of those, too, and so she signed him up. It was only seven years ago that Skinner won a bronze medal at the Canadian junior national figure skating championships, before giving up the sport.

How did figure skating help with hockey? Skinner talked about balance, about finding the absolute edge of that eighth of an inch of steel on that rock-hard ice. But first, he mentioned something else.

“Work ethic,” he said.

It was only a year ago that Skinner was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers and NHL Central Scouting had him pegged 47th among North American skaters in the midterm rankings. Even though he finished the season with 50 goals and 90 points in 64 games, he rose only to 34th in the final rankings.

“I don’t know why he would be there,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “But in fairness to Central, they do their list prior to the playoffs.”

Skinner scored 20 goals and 33 points in 20 playoff games.

“That really put him over the top,” Rutherford said.

It was only seven months ago that the NHL held the entry draft in Los Angeles. The Hurricanes held the seventh overall pick. They had started to target Skinner as early as January, but didn’t have him in their top 10 then. Now they had him in their top three, and despite Central’s ranking, they were worried – especially about one team ahead of them.

The picks came off the board – Taylor Hall(notes) first overall to the Edmonton Oilers, Tyler Seguin(notes) second overall to the Boston Bruins

The Hurricanes held their breath.

The seventh pick arrived. Skinner was still there.

“We knew when we drafted Jeff that … we were lucky to get him at that position,” Karmanos said. “And we knew that he was going to be a special player as he got older.”

Is he older already?

* * * * *

It was only six months ago that Skinner was still training with former NHL star Gary Roberts(notes) at his home in the Toronto area.

Skinner already had been training with Lorne Goldberg, who had been Roberts’ strength coach since he was 16. Now he was training with Roberts, who had been working with players like the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos(notes), helping turn boys into men – at least, helping boys prepare to play with men.

When they tested the guys June 1 – 25 players, all in the NHL or soon to be – Skinner had the lowest body fat of the group, just 10 percent.

“I knew I had an athlete that already got it,” Roberts said.

Skinner was just a kid, and he was already a skilled scorer. But he didn’t need to suffer an injury or suffer through a slump to realize that he had to eat right and bust his butt to make the most of his body and his game.

“Honestly, I compare him a lot to Crosby, just his lower body and his strength and his commitment, just the way he carries himself,” Roberts said. “Most guys don’t figure out how to be a solid pro until you go through some life lessons, and he’s been able to do that.”

And that’s a big reason why Skinner has been able to make such an immediate impact on the ice.

“Work ethic,” Rutherford said. “When players get drafted and they come out of college and junior, especially the guys that are high, they don’t totally understand how big a jump it is. They dominate at the levels they’re at, and so they come to camp not understanding that the task ahead is tougher than they think it is.

“When he was tested at the combine, his testing was really good. He was well above average as far as strength. But after he got drafted, the biggest thing he did to put himself in position to do what he’s doing in the NHL now is, he went with Gary Roberts, worked for the summer, built himself up even stronger.

“And the fact of the matter is, at this point in time, he’s just as strong certainly as the average NHL player is who’s much older than him.”

But Skinner is more than physically mature for his age.

He’s talented. The Hurricanes moved him from his natural center position to the left wing, relieving the rookie of some defensive responsibilities, freeing him to impress with his hands and hockey sense on the top line.

“It’s just your ability to know where the puck’s going to be before it gets there,” Staal said. “He seems to find those areas, and then when it gets there, he’s strong on it. He’s a strong kid, and he can finish.”

He’s respectful and quiet, but he has a sense of humor and quick smile. He has adjusted well to living on his own, rooming with 24-year-old backup goaltender Justin Peters(notes). (“We split the dishes,” Skinner said. “We do our own laundry, just so things don’t get mixed up.”) He waits patiently when the veterans board the plane first. (“In the airport, the chairs are more comfortable than the plane,” he said.) He laughs at the vets’ jokes.

“I bug him every day,” said Staal, who sits next to Skinner in the dressing room. “He’s pretty easy to make laugh. He makes you feel like you’re the funniest guy in the world when you sit with Jeff, because you can say anything to him and he’ll giggle.”

He’ll giggle?

* * * * *

It was only 48 hours before the All-Star Game, and in the convention center in downtown Raleigh, Skinner sat on stage in a temporary theater at the Fan Fair.

Music pumped all around. A huge NHL shield loomed behind him. The few rows of seats were filled with fans – plus his father, Andrew, snapping shots with his camera from the back row – and many more fans stood outside to hear him give an interview.

Skinner pointed his toes inward. He rubbed his hands on the pants of his suit. But those were the only clues that this was just an 18-year-old all-star. Amid all the hoopla and attention, he seemed calm and relaxed. He smiled. He told stories. He cracked jokes. He answered questions.

Somehow, he could see the blur of his young life and career.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said, “how fast it’s happening.”

  • Jack Nicklaus Remembers Arnold Palmer: 'He Was One of My Best Friends'

    Perhaps no one in golf has ever come close to matching Arnold Palmer's influence on the modern game, with the possible exception of Jack Nicklaus, his rival and close confidante for many years. Nicklaus posted a heartfelt message to Twitter on Sunday night expressing his shock and sadness at the passing of his longtime friend. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold's will and spirit did not." Nicklaus regretted that he hadn't had another chance to speak to his old friend, whom he called a legend, an icon, and a pioneer. Arnold always had my back, and I had his.

    Golf
  • QB Danny Clark decommits from Ohio State

    Ohio State’s 2017 class just got a little bit smaller, after the recruit who has been the member the longest will be playing his college football somewhere else. Three-star QB Danny Clark, of Massillon, Ohio, just decommitted from Ohio State, per his Twitter account. Clark originally committed to Ohio State as a freshman, and made it clear throughout this process that Ohio State was his dream school, so on some level, this is a somewhat surprising development. But Ohio State has already added another quarterback in this recruiting class, in four-star dual-threat QB Tate Martell. Over the last year, it became increasingly clear that Clark’s skillset is less fitted to Ohio State’s offense. Ohio

    Land-Grant Holy Land
  • How Les Miles went from a championship to fired at LSU

    The football culture at Louisiana State University is both a beautiful and terrible thing, perpetually cycling between extremes. The number of ways in which LSU mishandled Miles in the past 10 months is staggering. The backlash was severe enough that the firing was halted at almost literally the last minute – Miles’ job was saved during the regular-season finale against Texas A&M.

    Pat Forde
  • Pavel Buchnevich is playing for the Rangers tonight

    Alain Vigneault said that Pavel Buchnevich is a young player with "tremendous upside" but that "it's up to him, with our help, to help him be the best player he can be." Mika Zibanejad said that from his short time with Buchnevich he can tell that he is "really skilled," passes the puck well, brings lots of speed and is "fun to play with." (NYR) Zibanejad said that the key to working with Buchnevich now is to keep things simple with speaking and to use words that he understands. He added that that Buchnevich is a "smart guy when it comes to hockey and knows how to play."   (NYR) Chris Kreider said that Buchnevich's English has gotten a lot better and that he is a very amicable guy who is getting

    SNY
  • Jets need Fitzpatrick to step up following career-high six INTs

    The New York Jets need Ryan Fitzpatrick to play like he did in Week 2 when he threw for 374 yards as opposed to how he played on Sunday when he threw six interceptions in a 24-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Comcast SportsNet New York
  • Nicole Williams and NFL Player Larry English Are Engaged!

    Nicole Williams and Larry English are set to tie the knot after the 30-year-old NFL player popped the question to his longtime girlfriend on the season finale of WAGS. PEOPLE has the exclusive clip from the moment English took a knee to ask Williams for her hand in marriage. When English traveled to Thailand to surprise Williams, his romantic gesture nearly backfired after she freaked out that she didn't know his whereabouts.

    People
  • Nerlens Noel calls Sixers crowded center situation “silly,” adds it “doesn’t make sense”

    At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey.

    NBC Sports
  • Charlotte protesters march for sixth night despite shooting video release

    A couple hundred demonstrators chanted and marched through Charlotte on Sunday, as protests persisted after the release of two videos showing the fatal shooting of a black man by police officers in North Carolina's largest city. Angry protesters have filled the streets of Charlotte every day since the Tuesday killing of Keith Scott, 43, whom police said was armed when officers shot him. Crowds were smaller on Sunday than earlier in the week, but protesters said they would continue until police, who on Saturday released portions of videos showing Scott's death, published all the footage.

    Reuters
  • Darren Sproles' TD from Wentz set to Sonic the Hedgehog music

    It may be thanks to Vice President Joe Biden that we're all aboard the Wentz Wagon. Biden may have coined the term and Barack Obama made it big. Now, Biden has tweeted at Wentz after the Eagles' rookie led the Birds to a 3-0 start. Philadelphia is a tad giddy. Biden's tweet read: You may have missed it, but when Biden was at the Eagles' week 1 game against the Browns, the Veep told head coach Doug Pederson he'd like to suit up and play. "I wish I was good enough to be out there in a different role," Biden said. "You want to put some pads on?" Pederson asks. "I can go get some." "I did that through college," Biden responds. "I dreamed about it." Biden comes in about 50 seconds into the below video.

    CSN Philly
  • Ryder Cup: Ryan Moore Selected as 12th American Team Member

    The 12th and final member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team is Ryan Moore, as announced Sunday night on Sunday Night Football by broadcaster Mike Tirico. Moore finished second at the Tour Championship Sunday, losing a four-hole playoff to Rory McIlroy at East Lake. "Ryan fits so well with what we have in place," said Captain Davis Love.

    Golf
  • Fantasy Freak Show pod: Kenneth Dixon and other waiver wire adds

    Kenneth Dixon #30 of the Baltimore Ravens runs with the ball during a preseason NFL game against the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Brad Evans and Dalton Del Don open the podcast discussing fantasy ramifications from all of the

    Roto Arcade
  • Indians overcome odds to clinch first AL Central title since 2007

    The Cleveland Indians came into the season with a tough task: Unseat the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals in the American League Central. On Monday, they did just that. With their 7-4 win over the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians clinched the AL Central for the first time since 2007. A slow April may have been cause for concern early, but Cleveland eventually soared. The team went just 10-11 during the season’s first month, but then never posted a sub-.500 month the rest of the way.

    Big League Stew
  • Tonight will be rough for everyone, Collins says Mets will be respectful

    Yoenis Cespedes helped to hang a Mets jersey with Jose Fernandez's name and number (16) in the Mets dugout as a tribute to his Cuban countryman. Fernandez, 24, was killed in a boating accident early Sunday. The Mets also held a moment of silence for Fernandez before the national anthem. "Jeff Wilpon came to me and Asdrubal Cabrera with the idea, he had the jersey made," Cespedes told reporters after the game. "He came and spoke to us in the trainer's room before the game and I decided that I wanted to be the one to go out there and put it up, just to let everyone know how much this loss meant to us. ... I can tell you that we're going to take the jersey with us and we'll be putting it up again."

    SNY
  • LSU defensive lineman Davon Godchaux suspended after arrest

    Davon Godchaux (57) is a three-year starter at defensive tackle for LSU. LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux has been indefinitely suspended following a Monday morning arrest. According to multiple reports, Godchaux was charged with false imprisonment and domestic abuse battery/child endangerment following an alleged incident with his girlfriend, who was also arrested because of conflicting stories.

    Dr. Saturday
  • Jack tweets Arnie's congrats after '86 Masters win

    Arnold Palmer is famous for sending congratulatory notes to players who have won golf tournaments, great and small. None were bigger than when Jack Nicklaus captured the 1986 Masters at age 46. And, he too, got a note from Palmer.

    Golf Channel
  • Benches clear between Nationals, Pirates after Bryce Harper leaves game

    Bryce Harper left Sunday afternoon's game between his Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates with an apparent left hand injury. What led to Harper's hurt hand also led to the benches clearing at PNC Park.

    Amber Matsumoto
  • Jalen Ramsey on Steve Smith Sr: 'I don't respect him as a man'

    Ravens wideout Steve Smith Sr. shot back at Jalen Ramsey on Sunday night after the Jaguars cornerback called him an “old man” following Baltimore’s 19–17 win.

    Sports Illustrated
  • Draymond Green says he will stand for anthem, criticism of Kaepernick “ridiculous”

    At the same time, expect all those guys to back Collin Kaepernick and others who have done these protests. The latest example came from the Golden State Warriors media day and Draymond Green. Here is what he said in a passionate talk about the protests, via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

    NBC Sports
  • Phil Mickelson Criticizes PGA Tour's Setup of Tour Championship

    Phil Mickelson wasn't happy with the PGA Tour's course setup for the Tour Championship, and he let everyone know. After his final round, Mickelson was critical of the PGA Tour's setup ahead of this week's Ryder Cup because of the thickness of the rough. After a Sunday 66, Mickelson finished in 22nd place. The PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup when it's hosted in the United States, and the European tour runs the event when it's held in Europe.

    Golf
  • Things You Didn't Know About Arnold Palmer

    With the tragic passing of golf legend Arnold Palmer, Golf Digest honors his memory with a list of things you didn't know about Arnold Palmer.

    Golf Digest
  • The Latest: Charlotte mayor lifts curfew

    The mayor of Charlotte has lifted the curfew on the city after days of protests over the killing of a black man by police. There have been protests every day since 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was shot to death by Charlotte police on Tuesday. A midnight to 6 a.m. curfew has been in effect since Thursday after the protests turned violent, and National Guardsmen have been stationed throughout downtown each night.

    The Associated Press
  • Kevin Harvick passes Matt Kenseth for New Hampshire win

    Kevin Harvick is moving on to the second round of the Chase (Getty). Sunday’s race at New Hampshire came down to Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick again. And this time Harvick was the one entering victory lane. Harvick passed Kenseth with five laps to go

    From The Marbles
  • The Man Who (Practically) Owns NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car

    If you’ve bought a battery charger for your car at Walmart or Pep Boys or most anywhere else, you know where Don Schumacher made his money – Schumacher Electric, the world’s largest manufacturer of chargers. It’s what Schumacher does for fun – and profit, for that matter – that we’re addressing here: If you watched the NHRA drag racing coverage from Gateway Motorsports Park just east of St. Louis this past weekend, the man in the bright red shirt, standing there at the starting line, was downright ever-present during the Top Fuel and Funny Car eliminations. There was Don Schumacher standing there for the Top Fuel final between his son, Tony Schumacher, who has eight Top Fuel season championships, and his challenger, Shawn Langdon.

    The Drive
  • Tennessee video team scores a win over Florida and makes friends with Oregon

    When you go out on a limb and guarantee a victory, you better hope you and your team can back it up. Otherwise, your statements could come back to haunt you. The folks in Tennessee had a little fun at the expense of Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson this week after the Vols came from behind to beat Florida in a key SEC East Division game in Knoxville. The win brought an end to an 11-year losing streak Tennessee had going against their division rivals from Florida, which was cause for celebration alone, but being able to capitalize on a golden quote served up by Wilson a few days prior to the game ensured yet another victory on social media. “Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck? Ducks don’t

    NBC Sports: CollegeFootballTalk
  • Marlins at Tearful Press Event Speak of Jose Fernandez' 'Joy' in Playing Baseball

    The Miami Marlins held an emotional press conference early this afternoon on news of the death of star pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. Don Mattingly, the team's manager, wept as he spoke of the joy with which Fernandez played the game of baseball. Team president David Samson, fighting back tears, spoke of how the Fernandez, who emigrated from Cuban, was a beloved figure in Miami who was intimately involved with the community.

    Good Morning America