Skinner's got a nose for the net
Former figure skating prodigy now hot prospect for 2010 draft
|Kitchener Rangers forward Jeff Skinner produced 70 goals in the 2009-10 season, including 20 in his 20 Ontario Hockey League playoff outings (Claus Andersen/Getty Images).
Half a dozen years ago, he stood on the bronze-medal step of the podium in an arena named after one of Ottawa's greatest hockey exports.
But the puck game was the furthest thing from Jeff Skinner's thoughts on that February day at the Steve Yzerman Arena. Rather, he was revelling in the third-place finish he earned in the juvenile men's event at the 2004 Skate Canada Junior Nationals, a competition that brought together some of the country's top young figure skaters — among them a future Olympian named Patrick Chan.
"That was a great achievement," Skinner told NHL.com in reflecting upon his biggest moment in a sport he joined because his three older sisters were involved in it. "It probably benefited my hockey with the way I could use my edges on the ice."
Flash forward to today and Skinner is a hot prospect of a different sort, a first-round talent who could be sitting there waiting for the Ottawa Senators when they make the 16th selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 25-26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While International Scouting Services lists Skinner as its ninth-ranked prospect for the upcoming draft, NHL Central Scouting ranks him 34th among North American skaters. The Hockey News, meanwhile, slots him in at No. 25 overall.
"His puck handling and scoring touch ... he sees the ice every well," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards says in summing up how he views Skinner. "Everything about his offensive game is very good. (But) I think he'll have to work on his defensive side a little more.
"Obviously, his skating and his first step, he needs to continue to work on (and) speed and all that."
But nobody, to be sure, questions his instincts around the net.
"I think I'm just a guy that competes every shift and who works hard, has good offensive instincts and the ability to put the puck into the net," Skinner said in defining his game.
Kitchener coach Steve Spott looks at his high-scoring winger and thinks back to Mike Richards, another former Ranger who had plenty of critics to answer heading into his draft year. Today, he's widely admired as the captain of the Stanley Cup finalist Philadelphia Flyers and a member of Canada's gold-medal team at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
Richards lasted until the 24th pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but Spott had words of caution for any team passing on the Rangers' latest hot prospect.
"Jeff is going to make 29 other organizations feel like they made a mistake," he said.
As it turns out, hockey was anything but a mistake for the former figure skating prodigy. Then again, those sisters he followed into the sport went into hockey themselves, with older twins Jennifer and Andrea playing at Harvard and Cornell, respectively. Three other siblings also play the game.
"Just the whole experience of growing up in a hockey family, I think it brought us closer," said Skinner. "I think the way that our siblings have been supportive for each other through the years of minor hockey ... it's just been phenomenal to have that as an experience."