Canes' Skinner rates among NHL's top rookies

High-scoring center says helping the Hurricanes make the playoffs is his only goal this season.

Staff WriterJanuary 25, 2011 

  • The 42 All-Stars and 12 selected rookies will participate in six events:

    Fastest skater:There will be six preliminary races, with two players skating one lap of the ice. The players with the fastest times from each team meet in one final match race.

    Breakaway challenge: The NHL is bringing back this event, with the emphasis again on creativity on the breakaway. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has won it twice. Three shooters and one goalie from each team will participate. Fans in the arena and watching on TV will be able to vote via text for their favorites.

    Accuracy shooting:From 25 feet in front of the net, shooters will aim at four foam targets attached to the side of the goal posts. The object is to hit all of the targets in the fastest time.

    Skills challenge relay: A new event, it will have 16 players from each team in an all-around competition that includes the one-timer, passing, puck control, stick-handling and accuracy shooting in four relays.

    Hardest shot: Just like it sounds. Hardest shot wins. Defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins has won the past three times and registered a record shot of 105.4 mph in 2009.

    Elimination shootout: They're calling this "Hockey Survivor." All All-Stars and rookies will compete. Shooters who score move on to the next round, and the last shooter wins.

    There will be champions in each individual event, with Team Staal competing against Team Lidstrom for points. Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings are the two All-Star captains.

    For more information, go to www.nhl.com.

— Carolina Hurricanes rookie center Jeff Skinner has shown a flair and creativity that has him at the top of the league among rookies in points and assists.

So it's no surprise he was among the 12 rookies chosen to participate in NHL All-Star Weekend's SuperSkills competition and also is a contender for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league's top rookie after the season.

"You try not to focus on it and try to put it in the back of your mind," Skinner said of the Calder Trophy. "I try to focus on what I have to do to help the team win."

When asked what his goals are for the season, he defers to team goals.

"For us, it's to get into a playoff spot," he said, noting the Hurricanes' place in the Eastern Conference standings, a few points out of the last playoff spot.

Carolina coach Paul Maurice has been impressed by Skinner's play.

"His hands are brilliant," he said. "He's got all the elements that you want. He's committed, he's focused, he worked his butt off this summer to get into great shape. ... He has a passion for the game."

Skinner is only 18, but he's strong enough to throw a hip and move a defenseman from in front of the opposing net, positioning himself for a pass.

He has adjusted quickly to the NHL game in his rookie season. Entering Monday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had 17 goals and 22 assists.

"I've never been nervous for a practice until I stepped on the ice for a practice with Eric Staal, Cam Ward," he admitted. "You got out there with guys you've been watching the whole year. ... That's part of the adjustment. You become more comfortable, and you start to have that confidence to make plays. That was the biggest thing for me, getting that confidence. It only comes through experience."

Skinner gave credit to the help he has gotten from many in the Carolina clubhouse. It probably hasn't hurt that his locker is flanked on both sides by star center Staal and forward Sergei Samsonov, who won the Calder Trophy in 1998 with the Boston Bruins.

Samsonov said Skinner has handled the attention well.

"He's obviously a little more ahead of everybody," Samsonov said. "There's a lot of media attention, so he's dealing with it very well. He's still playing great and putting up points. He's getting better every game."

Maurice shared what it's like to coach a talent who has such skill.

"I've had a lot of experience watching him play, where you get a little bit of a smile on your face and then you want to run in and watch the video to see exactly how he did it," Maurice said. "There's some things going on with his hands and his feet that you don't pick up when it happens that fast."

Maurice said Skinner sometimes reminds him of the way Staal was on the verge of getting past goalies early in his career.

"You knew what he was trying to do or how he was trying to get there," Maurice said of Staal. "Jeff has taken the puck to the net so many times this year where he almost beat the goalie. ... You're thinking, I don't know when that year is, whether it's this year or two years from now, but he's going to figure that out and when he does, he's going to put a lot of pucks in the net."

javier.serna@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4953

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