Skinner building through experience

PAT MARTIN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

Carolina Hurricanes 18-year-old rookie Jeff Skinner is one of only a handful of players his age occupying an NHL roster spot.

Skinner is also one of only a few players who have a legitimate shot at winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie this season.

At the halfway point of the season, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound forward has 14 goals and 18 assists to lead all rookies in points, and according to his coach, numbers don't tell the whole story regarding Skinner's makeup.

"[Skinner's transition to the NHL] has been fairly seamless," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said before a recent game in New York. "We had all the questions that you have of an 18-year-old when he comes into the league, and he's answered all of them. He works hard, he's smart, he's a good kid, he's got incredible hands.

"Every once in a while he'll do something, and you'll say, 'he's 18!' We are really excited about him."

But how does Skinner grade his transition to the NHL game?

"You always come in as a rookie still figuring things out," he told The Sports Network. "You have a lot to learn, I realize that. The older guys have been easy to get along with and helped me adjust. I think I've fit in well so far."

The Markham, Ontario native has fit in well enough to be his team's second- leading goal scorer while ranking third in points with 32 in 41 games.

"You can see he's not only going to be a good player, he's going to be an elite player in this league," Hurricanes leading scorer and captain Eric Staal said. "He's showing that already at 18. It's exciting for me and for our organization that he's part of it."

Skinner came into training camp with two goals: first, to make the Hurricanes as an 18-year-old, and second, to remain with the club all season. Luckily for him, the organization was in transition and open to giving young players a legitimate shot.

"You could see the skill level, the compete level right away when he came in at training camp," Staal said. "It was just about adjusting. He's grown as the year's gone on and continued to work every practice and gotten better every game."

But how has Skinner improved so successfully game-in and game-out to the season's midpoint?

"I think any time you come into a new league, you want to try and get adjusted as quick as you can," Skinner said. "Building through experiences is the only way to do that."

Perhaps Skinner is building on the experience he gained last year, when he led his junior team, the Kitchener Rangers, to the OHL championship by scoring 20 goals and 33 points in 20 playoff games after scoring 50 goals and 90 points in the regular season.

Skinner's performance convinced the 'Canes to select him seventh overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, instead of his originally projected late first-round pick prior the playoffs.

If the other six teams could go back, would Skinner have gone even higher? And if he continues to improve at his current pace, is there a limit to what he can accomplish in the NHL game?

"Don't know where the limit is to him in terms of his upside," Maurice said.

For now, it seems, the sky's the limit.


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