These are different times for Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Sebastian Aho, more so than Skinner, now is considered the team’s best young star.
A year after scoring 37 goals, a career high, Skinner has found the goals harder to come by this season.
There’s also a new team owner, Tom Dundon. He has come in with different demands, on the organization and the team, and is forming judgments on players, on their commitment to winning.
The Canes meanwhile are trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. In his eighth NHL season, Skinner has yet to be in a Stanley Cup playoff game.
Skinner doesn’t begrudge Aho any of the attention the Finnish forward has drawn. Aho, not Skinner, leads the team with 18 goals and had the Canes’ only score Friday in an ugly 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
More and more Aho jerseys are being seen in the stands at PNC Arena. At 20, Aho appears to be an NHL All-Star in the making.
“He’s having a good year,” Skinner said. “He’s a good young player and has a good future, and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow and continue to get better.”
Those are the kind of things once said about Skinner, now 25 and a veteran of 548 games. He won the 2011 Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year, scoring 31 goals, and the personable forward remains popular among Canes fans.
And no envy of Aho, the new fan favorite, Skinner said.
“No,” he said. “We’re teammates. That’s part of being on a team. Any time they’re having success it often means the team is having success which means everyone is happy.
“I want to win games and the more good players we have the better the chance we have of winning. It’s all good. Hopefully he can keep it going.”
Skinner had a hot start this season, scoring seven goals in the first 10 games. It seemed to be a carryover from the 2016-17 season, when Skinner, always streaky, had 17 goals in the last 21 games and matched his career high with 63 points.
But Skinner has 15 goals this season and just three in the past 19 games, although not lacking offensive opportunities.
“I’ve had the chances and I haven’t been able to finish them off,” he said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. You have to stick with it.”
As Canes coach Bill Peters said, “He’s due.”
When Skinner isn’t scoring, other parts of the winger’s game are more tightly scrutinized — in his case, his defense. He’s minus-22 for the season, the lowest plus/minus rating on the team.
Skinner was minus-2 in the loss to the Wings, and that after a good defensive effort Thursday when the Canes shut out the Montreal Canadiens 2-0.
Peters gave Skinner a rare defensive compliment, noting a play against the Canadiens’ Victor Mete.
“Skinny made a helluva play,” Peters said. “It was on a line change and Mete was on the rush and he picked him up in the middle. Just real good awareness and willingness to do what you need to do in order to win.”
In a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan 23, Skinner hesitated in the defensive zone as the Pens’ Jean-Sebastien Dea sped past him to score what would be the winning goal. It was the kind of defensive lapse that was easy to spot and critique.
“I looked back and they seemed to have a trailer, too,” Skinner said of the play. “For a second, I kind of got caught between trying to go back and hit the trailer but the guy who ended up scoring was the guy who was driving the middle.
“Sometimes things happen fast. Any hesitation here or there and it can cost you. In hindsight I should have kept going and picked up the guy that ended up scoring.”
No one played very well Friday. The Red Wings used their speed to create odd-man rushes and scoring chances.
Skinner said he has talked with Dundon a few times and called the change in ownership exciting.
“I think it’s a new chapter for the organization,” Skinner said. “He’s a guy who gets thing done. As a player that’s what you want. You want an owner who’s positive.”
And an owner who will be weighing in on hockey decisions.
Skinner signed a six-year contract extension in July 2012, when he was called a “cornerstone player” for the franchise. That contract, which now pays him $6 million a year and has a no-movement clause, has one year remaining after this season and inevitably leads to questions about Skinner’s future.
“I think any player would like to stay where they are and win where they are,” Skinner said. “For me, that’s the No. 1 priority. I want to win and I’d like to win here.
“This is the team that drafted me and the team that’s given me the opportunity. I think the team has obviously improved. It’s an exciting time to be part of the organization.”
As for a new contract, Skinner said, “Those things, in the end they always seem to work themselves out. … We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”