There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the NHL draft this season, but one thing has become cemented in the minds of most observers: Jack Skille is going to do everything he can to make sure whichever NHL GM selects him does not regret it.
Skille, who skated with the U.S. National Team Development Program this season, is projected to be an early first round pick. Scouts say he'll be a solid power forward that will create headaches for the opposition for years to come.
In a recent interview with McKeensHockey.com, Skille said that while he's definitely looking to fill the power forward role, he tries not to get pigeon-holed into one specific aspect of his game.
"I think all my life I've been a role player where whatever the coach wants me to play, I'll play," he noted. "If he wants me to go out there and score goals I'll get out there and try my best, but what I am is a power forward. I think I work best in the corners, setting up my teammates. All my life I've really enjoyed playing that way."
The 18-year old just finished his second year with the U.S. program and he credits the international experience he's received with helping him develop both on and off the ice.
"You meet new people and grow from the experiences you get going to different countries," he said. "You learn how character is important and how you act represents your country and I think that's made me grow up as an individual and as a player."
RED, WHITE AND BOO?
Despite the current negative political climate for the U.S. in Europe, Skille says that overall there haven't been many problems for the team there.
"It's half and half," he reflected. "Some people don't like us because we're Americans but others enjoy us and like talking to us. Usually it's pretty ok - in the areas we're in people enjoy us and we enjoy them. So there usually aren't any confrontations or anything like that."
With a roster that includes highly touted players like Phil Kessel, Ryan Stoa and Jack Johnson, Team USA has drawn attention in every rink it has visited this season. Kessel is likely an early pick for the 2006 draft, while Stoa will be a first-rounder this year. Johnson has scouts salivating and Skille knows first-hand what the fuss over JJ is all about.
"When I'm on the bench it's amazing to see him go out there and just crush guys," he marveled. "He's just a man among boys out there - it's scary. I'm going to have a rough time playing against him next year, but it's going to be fun. He's great. His stick-handling skills; he fakes one way and goes the other; the spin move; those are all the little things he does that are just amazing. They're things I probably wouldn't be able to do and it's just fun to watch."
Skille's own draft stock has risen this season but despite the fact that he thinks his game has improved since the start of the year, he hasn't stopped trying to elevate his game. He considers his stick-handling his biggest weakness.
"I need to work on that skill and also making sure my defensive zone coverage is ok - the fundamentals," he said. "I'd like to tweak those just a little bit because you can never be too good, you know?"
YOU'RE IN BADGER COUNTRY
As much effort as he puts out on the ice, he knows the hard work can't end when he steps outside the rink. Skille will attend the University of Wisconsin next year and he won't let the fact that he's a top prospect sway his focus away from his school work - a lesson that should not be lost on younger players coming up through the ranks.
"I definitely think education is first," he said. "My dad's always on me to be good in school. I remember when I was back in PeeWee in Youth Hockey and I didn't have good grades and my dad made me sit out for two weeks until I got my grades back up again. So my dad's always pushing me to have good grades in school and school is always first. That's what I'd tell kids, to make sure school is ahead of sports."
As far as choosing the University of Wisconsin, the Madison native said it was a no-brainer.
"When I was a kid I always watched Badgers games," he reminisced. "There was always that dream when I was a little kid to play for Wisconsin. I always wanted to play for the Badgers and my dad was a Badger, so it's just kind of running in the blood."
You can count on the fact that when Skille is on the ice, he'll be badgering the opposition nightly. The only question that remains is which NHL team will make him a first round pick when the draft finally rolls around.
You can see the Final Top 100 for the 2005 draft by visiting McKeensHockey.com