Career stats: 579 games | 204 goals | 175 assists | 379 points | -96
Jeff Skinner had somewhat of an off season in Carolina last year. The 5'11" 200 lb. left winger scored 24 goals for the Hurricanes in 2017-18 which was 13 less than his career high of 37 goals the previous season. While some in Carolina may have been wondering what went wrong for the three-time 30-goal scorer, the Buffalo Sabres were saying, "We'll take that."
After taking the NHL, and Carolina, by storm as an 18 year old scoring 31 goals and 63 points while on his way to 2011 Rookie of the Year honors, Skinner continued make his mark as a goal-scorer posting a total 204 goals in 579 games over his eight seasons playing for the 'Canes. However, despite his individual successes Carolina hasn't made the playoff in nine seasons, which is the NHL's longest current playoff drought, and their new owner with a new front office decided change was needed. That included Skinner, a fan favorite, who will be entering the final year of a 6yr/$34.350 million contract he signed at the end of his entry-level deal. The seventh-overall pick in 2010 was put on the block this summer after it was clear that he wouldn't be signing a contract extension with the team.
Rumors had of a potential Skinner trade dated back to last off season and really picked up this past June. Although the number of teams and the intensity with which they were said to be interested in Skinner varied, Carolina felt that the Sabres offered up the best package which included a 2019 second round pick, a third and a sixth round pick in 2020 and forward prospect Cliff Pu. Buffalo was also intriguing enough for the Markham, Ontario native to waive his no-movement clause to go there.
It's no secret that the Buffalo has been the worst scoring team in the NHL for quite a while. In the last five years the three-time last place finishers averaged a league-worst 2.19 goals/game which included being the only team to finish a season under two goals per game. And they did so twice in a row (2013-14, 2014-15.) It was also no secret that heading into the off season the Sabres had a gaping hole at left wing. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill filled it partially when he traded for Pittsburgh Penguins left winger Conor Sheary, a player he'd watched up close as a part of the Penguins front office, but the trade for Skinner was on another level.
Skinner and Sheary bring a lot of the same attributes like playing with pace, being highly competitive and the ability to score at even strength but Skinner was able to produce much more consistently over a longer period of time. His last three goal totals beginning in 2015-16 would have ranked him first, first and tied for third, respectively, on a Sabres team that needed more scoring.
Ironically, the Sabres have the league's second-longest playoff drought at seven years and while Buffalo was last in scoring over the past five seasons, Carolina wasn't much better as they were fifth from the bottom averaging 2.49 goals per game. So why would Skinner allow a trade to a worse team than the one he played for in Carolina?
Apparently he likes what he sees in Buffalo.
"First and foremost the young group of players they have, the young core, is exciting," he told the media via conference call after the trade. And of the possibility of playing with top center Jack Eichel? "He's obviously one of the top centermen in the game right now," Skinner said of the 2015 second-overall pick. "Any time you get to play on a team with a guy that has that much talent -- and he's part of that young core, that exciting core -- I'm so happy to be on his team, instead of playing against him."
Where he plays in the lineup will be dependent upon training camp and what kind of chemistry is built within the top six leading up to the regular season. The book on Skinner is that he likes the puck on his stick, has the speed, wicked maneuverability and stickwork to get into prime scoring areas and, obviously, has the skill-level to finish. Whether that meshes better with Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt is yet to be determined but for at least this year, no matter which line he's on, the Sabres have themselves a true goal-scorer on the left side.