RALEIGH — Jeff Skinner created quite a stir this summer with two words: Hi twitter.
The Carolina Hurricanes forward set up an official Twitter account (@JeffSkinner) in July and tweeted once, and in a matter of hours he had thousands of followers.
At last count, Skinner has 10 tweets and almost 17,000 followers.
Skinners popularity has never been in question. Canes sweaters with the No. 53 on the back are seen all about PNC Arena on game days. Hes an exciting player, especially with the puck on his stick.
He scored 31 goals as a rookie in 2010-2011, played the first 112 games of his career without a significant injury and seemed on his way to NHL stardom. Then came a concussion his second season. And another in the third.
Skinner now is beginning a six-year contract with the Hurricanes, signed last August, that has a cap hit of $5.725 million a season. Thats quite an investment, one he feels he must justify.
I think every year you come in excited and youve had a good summer with the training and you want to get into it and have a great year, Skinner said Tuesday. I think every year youre sort of looking at it and saying, This is a big year.
Its tough to say if its any bigger than any of my last three. But its big.
As for feeling the weight of the contract, he said, It is what it is, I guess. I dont know. Everyone is aware of it.
I mean, its not going to change the way I play or change my attitude toward the game. Just because youre on a new contract doesnt change your attitude or your perspective. Going into the offseason, just like last offseason, my goal was to get better and come to camp as prepared as you can be. I think Ive done that.
Skinner, 21, changed up his offseason conditioning routine. The past few years, he worked in Toronto with former Canes forward Gary Roberts. This summer, he switched to strength and fitness trainer Andy OBrien, who helps train Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, among others.
I learned a lot from Gary, but just wanted a fresh start in the summer and a new perspective, Skinner said.
Skinner said he did a lot of power lifting the past few summers but focused more this year on moving patterns and efficiency in moving.
It was sort of like going back to basics and learning how to move properly, suitable to your body, he said. It was just some minor adjustments, pattern wise, and firing muscles different ways.
The Canes training camp may offer a few more changes for Skinner, who has been used mostly as a left wing his first three seasons. Canes coach Kirk Muller has said hes unsure if Skinner will line up at center or the wing and whether hell start on the second line with center Jordan Staal or perhaps on the third line.
Its up to them, Skinner said of the coaching staff. I dont have to worry about that, which could be a good thing. Theyll put together the whole thing to everyones benefit and the teams.
I dont have any bias as far as playing on this line or at wing. Once the season gets going things will fall into place.
Everything seemed to fall into place Skinners first year in the league, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHLs top rookie. He once called it surreal and it was, in some ways playing in the 2011 NHL All-Star game, the red-carpet treatment, the long lines for autographs, the adulation.
Many wondered how Skinner, then 18 and the youngest player in the league, would react to the crush of attention.
Expectations are created, Skinner said. But I think every athlete kind of has that built in, within themselves. They expect themselves to be better, to keep improving and get the best out of themselves.
Thats really where Im at. Im just expecting myself to be better than I was, and improve on parts of my game, and be better than I was before. Its the same attitude the team has, to keep building on the positive things and tweak the negative things and move forward.
Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip