LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Jeff Skinner might not even be able to make it past the Palms Casino Resort food court Wednesday night, so there’s no telling how he will get into the Pearl Theatre where the NHL Awards are taking place.
Since Skinner—the NHL’s youngest player, who led all rookies in scoring with 63 points—isn’t 21, he can’t gamble or drink—but technically he can’t even walk through the casino floor.
“I’m just trying to take it all in. I wish I could just watch everything in slow motion because there is so much to see,” said the 19-year-old Skinner, who is making his first trip to Las Vegas because he was nominated for the Calder Trophy, given each year to the league’s outstanding rookie.
The two other finalists for the award, Michael Grabner, 23, from the New York Islanders and 22-year-old San Jose Shark forward Logan Couture won’t have that problem.
While Skinner from Markham, Ont., might be disoriented by the new swanky star-powered surroundings, Skinner understands the significance of the Calder award.
“It would be an honour. To be up there with all the guys who’ve won the award would be special. To just be nominated is quite the honour, but to win it, I don’t know, it would be unbelievable,” said Skinner, who would be the youngest player ever to win the award.
Skinner would be a month younger than Hall of Famers Dale Hawerchuk (who won with Winnipeg in 1982) and Bobby Orr (Boston in 1967), who were 19 years and two months. Tom Barrasso is the third-youngest winner, capturing the award at 19 years three months in 1984 with Buffalo.
Skinner said the Vegas experience is a perfect way to cap off a whirlwind season that saw him exceed the already high expectations placed on him as a seventh overall draft pick last June. He became the youngest all-star in NHL history when he played in front of his hometown fans in Carolina in January, posted 31 goals and was nominated for the Calder.
“A lot of things have to go well and you have to get a few bounces of luck, I was really fortunate,” said Skinner, who starred the last two seasons for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
“I was really lucky to have good teammates, who showed me the right way and really helped my transition.”
Skinner won’t be able to see if he can continue his hot streak in Vegas as he’s underage, but his older brother, Ben, who just turned 21 in April and father, Andy, would likely take care of the gambling for the family, Skinner said.
“No I can’t (gamble) but I’m sure my dad and brother will have a lot of fun,” said Skinner—who has been compared to Canadian pop superstar Justin Bieber because of his boyish good looks, and allowed fans on seventeen.com to vote for the suit he would wear to the awards.
“But we’re staying a couple of days after the awards so we’ll take in the sights and maybe see a couple of shows. They’ll include me as much as they can.”
GRAND VACATION—On the opposite side of the spectrum from Skinner is the 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, who is nominated for both the Norris Trophy, for the league’s best defenceman, and the Lady Byng, for outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.
“Being nominated is always such an honour, but this summer this kind of gives me a motivational and confidence boost,” said Lidstrom, who on Monday announced he would return for his 20th season with the Red Wings when he signed a one-year deal worth US$6.2 million.
The Swedish standout—who scored 62 points last year to become the first 40-year-old defenceman in the NHL to get 60 points in a season—said the decision to return to the Red Wings was a difficult one.
“It wasn’t easy I wanted to make sure for myself that I was still motivated to play and had the drive in me need to play at such a high level,” Lidstrom said. “Recently I reached that conclusion and am happy to be coming back for one more.”
If Lidstrom—who has been nominated for six Lady Byng awards, but never won—captures the Norris award, it would be his seventh trophy in 11 nominations. He would tie Doug Harvey’s total and trail Orr’s record by only one.
But the biggest highlight of his current Las Vegas vacation was when he toured the Grand Canyon by helicopter with his wife, Annika, and four children.
“We took a ride over the Grand Canyon, stopped and had a picnic, then toured the Vegas skyline. It was amazing,” he said.
STAND DOWN—Stand-up comedian Jay Mohr, who hosts the awards for the second straight year, wasn’t trying to protect any particular part of his act before Wednesday’s performance when he mingled with NHL stars and members of the media Tuesday afternoon—rather his actual hands.
“These guys are crushers. Even the young guys come in here and try to absolutely break your hand. It’s a handshake that says if we ever go to jail, I’m on top,” quipped Mohr. Moir appeared on Saturday Night Live as a 23-year-old and is best known in the sports world for his guest radio appearances on the Jim Rome radio show and his role as sports agent Bob Sugar opposite Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire.
Mohr—who is married to actress Nikki Cox, and just welcomed son Meredith Daniel Mohr into the world in May—joked that NHL players, even more so than the NASCAR drivers (he’s hosted racing award ceremonies in the past) wouldn’t remember the special parts of his show tomorrow.
“I just throw all my normal material out, rewrite 10 minutes of stuff and then go up there—it’s not like they’re going to remember any of it,” he said with a laugh.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Tom Barrasso and incorrectly identified his 1984 team.