LOS ANGELES — Jeff Skinner looks younger than 18 and doesn't look like he's "just over 5-10" in height, as he claims.
But there's nothing deceiving about what Skinner does exceptionally well: score goals. That's what the Carolina Hurricanes are counting on.
The Hurricanes, picking seventh in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday, took Skinner, a center who scored 50 goals in the regular season for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and another 20 in the playoffs.
That's 70 goals in all. That's hard to overlook, at any level. He's a sniper, a finisher.
Skinner said he did not expect to be taken so high in the first round but smiled and noted, "I had been advised anything can happen at the draft."
For Skinner, rated 34th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, it did. Though highly rated defenseman Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler were available - and tempting - after the first six picks, the Hurricanes went into the draft at the Staples Center determined to land a center in the first round and found one.
"He's a special personality, with special character," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "He has scored at every level.
"It's pretty impressive when a [then] 17-year-old scores 50 goals in a season. It's even more impressive when he scores 20 goals in 20 games in the playoffs. He's not only a goal scorer. He's a competitor."
Rutherford said the Canes, armed with a league-high 11 picks in this year's draft, attempted to work a quick trade after taking Skinner with the intent of getting Gormley or Fowler. But it did not work out as Fowler went 12th to the Anaheim Ducks and Gormley 13th to Phoenix.
"I was surprised Fowler and Gormley slipped as far as they did," he said. "I tried to see if we could do something to jump in there, but we couldn't."
The Hurricanes hold three second-round picks and Rutherford said a priority today, when the draft concludes, would be in getting two defensemen.
Despite the Central Scouting low ranking, Skinner was rated in the top 10 by International Scouting Services and stock on the rise as the draft approached. He interviewed with the Hurricanes at their Hollywood hotel this week, getting some positive vibes from the meeting but no real inkling he'd be the pick.
Asked to describe his style of play, Skinner quickly replied, "I'm going to work hard, on and off the ice and try to get better every day. I hate to lose. I'm going to work hard and do everything it takes to win."
Interestingly, Skinner, from Markham, Ont., isn't considered a great skater but was an accomplished figure-skater as a young teen, finishing third in one Canadian competition. It's said the 190-pounder still perform a single axle in full hockey gear.
"It's definitely helped with my hockey," Skinner said. "It's helped my skating and my balance."
Skinner said his Kitchener teammates "occasionally chirp" about the figure skating, but he smiled and noted, "They're pretty respectful now." So are opponents - witness Skinner's 72 penalty minutes last season.
Kitchener coach Steve Spott has compared Skinner to Mike Richards, a former Ranger star, and Rutherford said Skinner might have a chance of making the Hurricanes' roster next season - with a caveat.
"That's a very big step," Rutherford said, "but this is a player who will be given an opportunity to make our team."
As for Skinner, whose parents both are lawyers, he seemed a bit starstruck and surprised to be talking to the media backstage, adorned in a Hurricanes sweater and cap. His big moment came earlier than expected Friday.
"I guess I'm excited," Skinner said, smiling. "I think as many times as you run it through your head, you're never fully prepared for all the excitement that comes with it."
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