Two things caught the eye Sunday when Derek Ryan scored a power-play goal for the Carolina Hurricanes.
One was Ryan quickly raising his arms, breaking into an ecstatic, celebratory smile.
The other was Jeff Skinner on the other side of the Florida Panthers net, showing off his vertical leap.
“I don’t think I got very high,” Skinner said later, after the Canes’ 3-2 comeback victory at PNC Arena.
But that’s Skinner. His competitiveness means a lot to the Hurricanes, no doubt. But so does his cheerfulness.
Don’t let that hint of a beard, still a work in progress, fool you. At 24, Skinner is still a kid at heart, impish, playful.
“Just a kid who loves the game,” goalie Cam Ward said.
Skinner had a breakaway goal and then assisted on Ryan’s winning score Sunday after first drawing the penalty that led to the power play. As Canes coach Bill Peters put it, “He manned up, big time.”
Skinner seemed as genuinely amped about Ryan’s goal as his own. A few games ago, he was high-fiving everyone on the bench after a Canes score.
Nor does Skinner save his exhuberance for the games. In practices, “Skinny” chirps away, that high-pitched voice heard time and again. He’ll leap into the glass after a goal, or skate by Ward to get under his skin, under his mask. Once, he pantomimed Ward’s every move.
That can continue off the ice, too, Ward said.
“One day he was teasing us about joining him in his office,” Ward said. “That’s the gym.”
Skinner was headed to the weight room at PNC Arena. And Ward? “I did not join him,” he said.
“We always have fun,” Ward said. “He’s been in this league for seven years but I still view him as a kid, and I think we have a good friendship in that we like to poke one another. Be like kids back in the day.”
Just a kid who loves the game.
Cam Ward on Jeff Skinner
Skinner is expected to be a consistent goal scorer and point producer for the Canes (9-8-4), who face the New York Rangers on Tuesday. The forward does that well — his nine goals and 19 points lead the team — but his playful attitude helps keep things light.
“Most things, I try and find the humor in them,” Skinner said. “I don’t know, maybe I should take more things seriously.”
Being raised in a large family in Markham, Ontario, played a part in that, Skinner said.
“I’m the second-youngest of six kids,” he said, smiling. “Getting under my older siblings’ skin was the only way I could get attention. I just tried to be a troublemaker and stir the pot.”
Skinner can “stir the pot” with opposing teams on the ice. He can be the irritant, the troublemaker.
“He’s got that fire, that intensity,” Ward said. “He can get his nose dirty and play with an edge.”
Before a recent game against the Winnipeg Jets, Skinner got into a push-and-shove with Jets captain Blake Wheeler — moments before the opening faceoff.
Skinner also can be knocked off his game by some rough play and antics by his opponents, although he has learned to cool it, maintain his focus. An alternate captain for the Hurricanes this season, he realizes he must keep his poise, play hard. Be a leader.
“When you first come into the league you have those guys you look up to and try to learn from and pick their brain,” Skinner said. “I still do that with the older guys but to be on the other end of that, and be one of the guys who’s being looked up to, is a pretty cool feeling.
“You want to take pride in it and realize the responsibility to do right by the young guys like it was for me when I came into the league.”
One of the older guys in the room now is veteran forward Lee Stempniak. He said he has invited Skinner over to his house for dinner a few times, all the better to let his young kids — Skinner fans — be around him.
“He’s funny and he’s got a great personality,” Stempniak said. “He enjoys life and has that mischievous grin all the time.”
Skinner said he enjoys going to the Stempniak house. The kids are great, he said. The food is great.
“I think I’ll keep inviting myself over,” he said.
And, yes, he said it with that mischievous grin.
Hurricanes at Rangers
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York