Outside of the team's defensive rebuild, most of the talk concerning the Hurricanes this off-season has been about their young star Jeff Skinner. Although, a lot of it hasn't been very positive. Skinner is coming off the worst season of his brief career and unfortunately for him, it happened right after he signed a big six-year contract extension that will carry a cap hit north of $5 mil. per year. Between Skinner's concussion problems and his scoring numbers declining, some might view this deal as an albatross and one that the Hurricanes should consider trading before his value completely tanks. If only the rest of the world had such a pessimistic outlook on life.
That being said, it is true that Skinner didn't have a great season and he will need to rebound if Carolina plans to go anywhere in this new division next year. The Canes had little scoring outside of their first line last season and his slump along with Jordan Staal's were a big reason for that. 13 goals and 24 points in 44 games would be okay for some players, but Skinner is capable of doing so much more and the Hurricanes will need him to bounce back in a big way.
The good news is that there are indications that Skinner is due for a rebound campaign and should get back to producing at the levels of his first two seasons. Skinner's point totals may have taken a tumble last year, but his game has developed well in other ways and it should lead to him posting some better numbers relatively soon. I've written about this on multiple occasions and after the jump, we will go over what some realistic expectations are for him next season.
Even Strength Production
One of the strangest thing about the "Skinner has gone downhill since his rookie season" narrative is that he actually had a solid sophomore campaign. He scored at a first line rate at even strength (2.01 ESP/60) and would have recorded at least 50 points had it not been for the concussion. Sights may have been set higher for him because of his outstanding rookie year where just about everything went his way, but there wasn't much to complain about Skinner's sophomore year as far as his on-ice production goes. Anytime you have a player that scores at a first line rate in two consecutive years, you have a nice talent on your hands. Add in that Skinner wasn't even 20 years old at the time and it's safe to say that he is a pretty special player.
Sports are a "what have you done for me lately" world, though and Skinner's latest season wasn't a great one. Both his goal scoring and point rates at even strength took a considerable fall last season and his injury concerns continued, although he missed only six games. Skinner still needs to learn how to protect himself better, but a deeper look at his performance shows that his scoring woes were something that he didn't have much control over. Which is why he is a prime candidate to rebound this year.
The 42 games Skinner played last year were basically the opposite of how his rookie season went. He was still producing a high amount of shots on goal but he wasn't seeing any reward for it. His shooting percentage at even strength completely tanked and was well below what is expected out of anyone playing top-six minutes. To make things worse, his on-ice shooting percentage also cratered and it ended up having an effect on his assist total and his plus/minus. Comparing those numbers to how good he was in his first two seasons, it's hard to believe that Skinner's results will be this bad again.
In fact, when you look at everything else, Skinner's actually improved in some ways from his rookie year. He is producing more offense and the Hurricanes are decisively winning the territorial battle whenever he is on the ice. With how much offense he produces, I feel pretty confident in saying that last year was just a flash in the pan for Skinner and he will see his results get better next season. He might be taking more lower percentage shots (i.e. ones from further away), but he is also creating scoring opportunities through that (rebounds) and if he continues to play on a line with Jordan Staal & Tuomo Ruutu, that should lead to more goals.
Power Play Production
While Skinner had no luck at even strength, what he did on the power play was about in line with the rest of his career. It was actually a little better when you consider that more of his points came from goals than assists. Skinner's always better when working with more space on the ice, so it isn't terribly surprising to see that his power play numbers have always been good.
PP Team Sh%
Skinner might actually be due for some regression on the power play, although it probably wont affect his goal or point total that much. He shot at a pretty high percentage, but it wasn't that far from his career average (12.7%) and even though hew as on the ice for more goals, he didn't record an assist in many of them. Considering that Skinner is still shooting the puck more and was on the ice for a lot of shots with that first unit, I would not expect his power play production to decline that much.
Skinner's even strength production is what is going to change the most this season and while I think he will post better numbers, how much ice time he gets will play a major factor in it. One would think that Skinner would get 14-15 minutes per game, but if the coaching staff continues to toy around with the lines & use Skinner on the third line, he may get around 13 instead. That said, Skinner has played well over 14 minutes per 60 minutes the last two seasons and I currently have him projected to play about that much this year.
Should that happen and Skinner's shot rate is around what it was last season (11.5 shots/60), he should have roughly 236 shots by the end of the year. That would equate to anywhere from 13-26 even strength goals depending on what his shooting percentage is. 13 being if he shoots like he does last year and 26 being if he shoots at his career average. I don't see Skinner ever reaching the heights of his rookie season again (15% shooting percentage) because it's hard to be that good of a finisher if you shoot the puck as much as he does. However, I do think that he is good enough to be an above average goal-scorer and him posting a shooting percentage of about 9-10% is reasonable. That could give him about 21-23 goals at even strength.
Skinner's own shots are just part of the equation, though. He has been on the ice for over 30 5v5 shots on goal per 60 minutes in all three of his years and I don't see any reason why this won't continue next season. He could potentially be on the ice for even more shots if he plays most of his minutes with Jordan Staal but since that is in flux right now, I have him on the ice for about 33-34 5v5 shots per 60 minutes. That would put him on the ice for about 58-62 5v5 goals in an 82 game season.
It's possible that Skinner ends up with fewer assists with how low of an on-ice shooting percentage he posted last season, but I don't see that repeating. Instead, I have him with roughly an average on-ice shooting percentage (18-22) shooting percentage, which would give him somewhere between 18-22 even strength assists in a full season. I'm assuming that rate stays constant because Skinner has recorded an assist on 31-32% of the 5v5 goals he was on the ice for in all three seasons of his career. Although, that could increase if Skinner continues to shoot for rebounds with Staal & Ruutu crashing the net.
On the power play, Skinner should play a little under three minutes per game and if he registers about 12-13 shots per 60 minutes, he would have 44-46 shots. Assuming he shoots at his career average (12.7% on the power play), he could have 4-6 goals by the end of the year. I might be rounding that number down a little because I think he is prone to regress here, but the guy still shoots the puck a lot and that could make up for the dip in shooting percentage.
Skinner is also on the ice for a lot of shots on the power play, mostly due to playing on the first unit, and could register a lot of assists if things go his way. Last year, the Canes shot at 14% with him on the ice but he recorded an assist on only 21.6% of those goals, which is a far lower percentage than his first two years. Using his career average, let's say he records an assist on 38.5% of the power play goals that he is on the ice for. If he continues to be on the ice for 52 5v4 shots per 60 minutes, he would be on the ice for about 22-25 goals in a full season if the Canes shoot at 12.13% with him on the ice. That would give him anywhere from 7-9 assists on the power play in a full season.
Add all this together, and I have Skinner's projection set at 55-62 points, which is reasonable for him if he can stay healthy. The absolute low point for is if he repeats last year, which would give him only 36 goals but I think it's safe to assume that won't happen. Likewise, it's safe to assume that he wont get as lucky as he did in his rookie season and end up with 78 points in 82 games because he hasn't shown the ability to convert on such a high percentage of his shots over a long period of time. Taking all of that into account, Skinner ending the season with 54-62 points sound fairly reasonable.