Going off seniority alone, Jeff Skinner jumped the queue when he nabbed his roster spot on the 2010-11 Carolina Hurricanes. A fresh-faced 18-year-old who dazzled at rookie camp before cementing his status with the big boys, Skinner was the unlikely winner in a game of youthful musical chairs featuring older Carolina prospects such as Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Zac Dalpe.
“I tell people, in the nicest way possible, that he’s a freak on the ice,” Dalpe said. “People don’t even see what he does in practice, it’s unbelievable. He deserved everything he got this year, that’s for sure.”
Dalpe and Skinner were actually roommates during training camp last season and with the then-20-year-old Dalpe entering his first pro season after two years at Ohio State, both were on equal footing. But Skinner played a full NHL schedule, while Dalpe got in just 15 games with the Canes and spent the rest of the season in the American League with Charlotte.
Nonetheless, the pair often discussed the pro grind. “It’s fun to go through that together,” Skinner said.
“You get to bounce ideas off each other and see how each guy handles it, because it’s such a personal thing. I think it’s important to have guys around who help you out like that.”
The goal for Dalpe and the other young Canes is to replicate Skinner’s 82-game NHL feat this season. Boychuk and Bowman both saw action 23 times last year, but neither made huge impacts. Though the team added forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart in the summer, there will once again be chances for the next wave to grab roster spots.
Following Skinner’s camp example – he came in famously trained by ex-Hurricane Gary Roberts – would be a wise move for youngsters hoping to make an impression.
“He was as strong as guys who were 24, 25 years old and that’s why he was capable of playing 82 games at a high level,” said Carolina GM Jim Rutherford. “I think that’s the key point here for guys coming out of the draft.”
While Carolina’s other prospects are a few years divorced from the draft now, the goal is the same: stick and make an impact.
Having proved himself as a full-timer, Skinner returns with a mission on his mind: “First of all, it’s to get back to the playoffs,” he said. “Personally, I want to build on last year and help the team win as many games as we can.”
Skinner’s year was notable not only because his NHL career started in Europe, where he scored the shootout winner against Minnesota in just his second game, but also because the NHL All-Star Game came to Raleigh. And Skinner took part in the game, not just the rookie skills challenge.
Skinner quickly became a teen idol in North Carolina, which is a lot of attention for a kid who is mild-mannered off the ice.
“You see the smile on his face,” Dalpe said. “I know he’s quiet, but he does like to have some fun. I think he’s handled it pretty well. I’d like to see how he does this year. I think he’ll come back and score more goals than he did last year.”
Based on how he shot out of the gates, perhaps Skinner will request Dalpe as a roommate again. Ironically, the NHL’s rookie of the year also bunked with Bowman and rookie defenseman Jamie McBain (playing his first full season in the NHL) on the road during the season, so maybe youth helping youth is the way to go for the Canes.
“It was my first week in Carolina, so I was pretty nervous,” Skinner said. “We went through a lot of firsts together and it’s pretty cool to go through it with someone.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hockey News magazine.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.