The Carolina Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner had a new addition Friday to his No. 53 jersey, and was proud of it.
Skinner was wearing an “A,” serving as an alternate captain for the Canes. The winger is one of four players who will have “A’s” this season — along with Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Victor Rask — and will wear an “A” at home games while Rask is an alternate captain on the road.
The Canes’ home opener Friday against the New York Rangers meant Skinner had an “A” for the first time in his career. He also had two goals and an assist in a 3-2 victory, just missing a hat trick.
“It’s nice to be recognized as part of the leadership group,” Skinner said Saturday. “There are a lot of guys who are leaders on the team, guys who have been around a long time. Everyone has a voice.
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“It’s cool to have the recognition, but I’m not going to change how I act or how I play with the ‘A.’ You just try to get better as a person, as a player, as a teammate.”
At 24, Skinner is showing a maturity that’s admirable in any athlete. Once prone to being petulant on the ice at times, his fierce competitiveness betraying him in fits of anger, the winger has become more of steely eyed, determined player.
“It’s an emotional game and some guys have different thresholds, different reactions to different things,” Skinner said. “You get caught up in the game.
“As you grow older, you’ve been in more situations, you’ve seen more situations, and when you experience something as an older player you can draw on that experience and do things with more perspective. You want to keep that emotion, you want to keep that in your game. For some people that makes them more effective.”
When Skinner came into the league in the fall of 2010, at 18, he was on a team with such players — such men — as Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Tim Gleason. Seated next to Eric Staal in the PNC Arena locker room in his rookie season, Skinner mostly kept his mouth shut and smiled — a lot. He was the kid in the room.
No longer. Since the departure of Eric Staal and others at the NHL trade deadline last season, Skinner has accepted, welcomed, more of a leadership role. More importantly, he has played his best hockey.
“Some pieces were moved out, and we needed to step up, and he’s definitely stepped up,” Peters said Saturday. “He’s healthy, he’s competitive, he’s a goal scorer. He finds a way each and every night to be dangerous. He’s courageous in the high-traffic areas.”
Skinner has joined Rask and winger Lee Stempniak to give the Canes a productive line — Rask has points in all seven games.
Skinner came within inches of a hat trick on Friday. His shot in the final second of the second period glanced off Bryan Bickell in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist and into the net, bringing hats raining down on the ice.
Bickell later was credited with the goal, his first with the Canes and was the winner. Skinner was named the game’s first star.
While tending to be quiet early in his career, Skinner now does a lot of talking – on the ice, on the bench, in the room.
“He can have a little bit of fun, he has a great personality when he lets loose a little bit,” Peters said.
But it’s Skinner’s play and leadership that the Canes (2-3-2), who host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, need most. It’s why he has an “A.”