Rookie seasons like the one Jeff Skinner had come around once every so often. As an 18 year old, he had a 31-goal season, recorded 61 points and produced at an astounding rate of 2.49 points per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. A rookie putting up those kind of numbers is rare and it's unheard of for an 18-year old to have that kind of year. Having a rookie season like this will do wonders for your expectations and Skinner's were off the charts after this season. He was known as an elite goal-scorer when he was drafted and after potting 31 in his rookie season, it led you to believe that he could do the same in the NHL and possibly do more in future seasons. Things haven't quite gone this way, though.
After his terrific rookie season, Skinner scored 20 goals and had 44 points in 64 games his sophomore season and right now, he has only 13 goals and 23 points over 40 games. This scoring pace would give him only 26 goals and 47 points in a full 82-game season, which is probably lower than what many people had expected from him after his great rookie season. His scoring rate has also plummeted to 1.29 points per 60 minutes this year after scoring over two points per 60 minutes in his first two seasons. This along with his -20 rating has a lot of fans wondering what has gone wrong with Skinner's development and what he is doing differently from his rookie season.
Seeing Skinner's point totals fall off is frustrating because he has actually made a lot of improvements in his game from his rookie season, despite what some want you to believe.
It's unfortunate that goals, points and plus-minus are the ultimate grading tools for players because luck plays a huge role in all three stats and there is really a lot more that goes into a player's game than just counting stats. Some might disagree and say that points and plus-minus are fine judge a player like Skinner because he is a goal-scorer and an offensive threat, so putting up point is his job. That's a fair statement but when it comes to producing offense, the most that Skinner (and all players) have control over is the amount of shots and scoring chances they get on net. Some players have more finishing ability than others, but goal-scoring is still very random and luck-based, so I don't hold it against players who have a down year because of a poor shooting percentage.
We saw in Skinner's rookie year that Skinner has great finishing ability but that season was one of a kind. There are not going to be many 20 year olds who score on more than 14% of the shots they take and it's even more rare to find players who can score on that high of a percentage of their shots, especially if they play a lot of minutes. Skinner has experienced a shooting percentage slump this year, but his game has improved in a lot of other ways. The most impressive being his ability to generate a high amount of offense.
SOG = Shots on goal, SA/60 = Shot Attempts per 60 minutes
Skinner shoots the puck more at even strength than anyone else on the Hurricanes and his shot rate increased by about 18% this season. According to a study done by Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey, it is very rare for a player of his age to increase his shot rate by that much, so this is a promising sign for Skinner's development. What Skinner experienced this season is a shooting percentage slump but his ability to produce offense actually got a lot better. He's shooting the puck from a greater distance away, which probably affected his shooting percentage, but there is little evidence to believe that he will shoot at only 5.6% at even strength for the remainder of his career. Skinner didn't "forget how to score," he is just experiencing some terrible shooting luck and there isn't much he can do about that. He can try to shoot closer to the net, but he is already generating more scoring chances than anyone else on the team, so it's hard to believe he will continue to stay this unlucky even with his current shooting habits.
Skinner's overall game has also seen considerable improvements this year, most of which relates to his ability to drive the play forward and play tougher minutes. For his first two seasons, Skinner was used in sheltered situations and was barely breaking even in terms of his ability to drive possession during five-on-five play. That all changed this year since the team elected to put him on Jordan Staal's wing and use him in a tough-minute situations for most of the year. This experiment worked out better than you may think.
SF/60 = Shot attempts per 60 minutes, SA/60 = Shot attempts against per 60 minutes
Instead of barely breaking even in sheltered minutes, Skinner has been excellent in driving possession at even strength. Taking a look at the number of shots he is on the ice for compared to how many he is giving up shows how much his two-way game has improved this season and that he is spending more time in the other team's end than trapped in the defensive zone. He is also doing this while facing other team's top lines and with tougher zone starts, which is pretty encouraging as far as his development goes. Skinner's defensive game still needs some work, but the amount of offense he creates can help mitigate that. In a game where territorial play decides so much, sometimes offense can be the best defense. Skinner's play is a good illustration of that. Some might point to his -20 rating to disprove this theory, but his terrible plus-minus is more due to Carolina's goalies stopping only .885 of the 5v5 shots they face when he is on the ice. That isn't his fault and shows why plus-minus can be misleading.
In short, this has been a very unlucky season for Skinner but there are a lot of things to be encouraged about as far as his development goes. Skinner still needs to do a better job at protecting himself since he already has two concussions before his 21st birthday, but I've seen plenty of things from him this year to be confident about where his future is going. If he can continue to drive the play while playing tough-minutes, then the Canes might have a very good second line with him and Jordan Staal in future seasons. I just hope the Hurricanes can see this year for what it is, one that is heavily influenced by bad puck luck. That applies to Skinner and a few other players on the team.
Stats courtesy of Behind the Net