Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner spent the summer working with trainer Andy O’Brien in Toronto and again got in some high-altitude training in Colorado.
“You just try to keep progressing from summer to summer, keep getting better,” he said.
The problem for Skinner, as it has been since 2011, is that the summers are too long. Just once he’d like to still be playing hockey when the postseason arrives, not have a prolonged offseason.
Skinner was 18 when he first broke into the NHL, winning the Calder Trophy in 2011 as the league’s rookie of the year. That season also was the closest he has come to being a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
On the final day of the 2010-11 regular season, the Canes needed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning at home to make the playoffs – a win-and-they’re-in scenario earned by going 8-1-1 in the previous 10 games. But the Lightning won 6-2 and Skinner will enter his seventh NHL season, now having played 418 games, without a playoff appearance.
“For us, obviously the main goal is to make the playoffs and I think we’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of talent in the new acquisitions we made,” Skinner said.
Skinner once was the kid in the room. He’s now 24, not exactly grizzled, but will start training camp Friday in a PNC Arena locker room with several younger players – forwards Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen and rookie Sebastian Aho, along with defensemen Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.
“We’ve got some guys who can bring the speed,” Lindholm said. “Hopefully it will make our team even faster and more fun to watch.”
I think the way we finished last season, with the young guys stepping up and making big strides in their game ... I think if we can put it together and sort of pick up where we left off, we should be in a good position.
Canes forward Jeff Skinner
Teravainen, who turned 22 on Sept. 11, was a key acquisition, coming to Carolina in the June trade with the Chicago Blackhawks along with veteran forward Bryan Bickell. The Canes also signed free-agent forwards Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg, adding more experience.
Given the Canes’ 15-point improvement in the standings last season, the youthful mix of players and additions, there has been more of a preseason buzz about the team, evidenced by improved season-ticket sales.
“I think it’s deserved and I think it’s something we have to keep building on, too,” Skinner said. “I think the way we finished last season, with the young guys stepping up and making big strides in their game ... I think if we can put it together and sort of pick up where we left off, we should be in a good position.”
One must for the the Hurricanes is a better beginning to the season. Carolina was 8-13-4 in its first 25 games last year and never caught up.
“The start is a hot topic because we haven’t gotten off to good starts in the past,” Skinner said. “We’ve played better late in the seasons and then had to look back and think if we didn’t have such a bad start we’d be in a different position.”
The rub: the Canes play their first six games on the road this season, beginning Oct. 13 against the Winnipeg Jets, and eight of the first 10.
Skinner was the Canes’ leading scorer last season with 51 points, scoring a team-high 28 goals. Better in the defensive end, the 5-11, 200-pound winger was second in the NHL in takeaways (77) and improved his plus/minus rating to minus-2 from minus-24 in 2014-15.
Skinner, always the sniper, was 14th in the NHL with 258 shots and his 10.9-percent shooting was his best since his rookie year. But the Canes, 27th in scoring last year at 2.39 goals a game, need more goals this season – from Skinner, Lindholm and others – if they’re to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“There some big steps made last year in the right direction and we want to keep building on that,” Skinner said. “Get off on the right foot, have a good start and see where we build from there.”