Skinner itching to get the regular season started

September 30, 2018 - 12:10 pm
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After spending the first eight years of his National Hockey League career with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jeff Skinner is just days away from playing his first game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform.

The 26-year-old forward comes to Buffalo after the Sabres acquired him from Carolina on August 2 in a surprise summer blockbuster. The deal sent the Hurricanes a second round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, as well as two picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and prospect Cliff Pu.

In his time in Carolina, Skinner scored 204 goals and registered 379 points in 579 games, but was never part of a playoff team in his time in Raleigh, North Carolina.

After a long offseason of transition and getting to know some new faces in Buffalo, Skinner is ready to get the regular season started on Thursday night against the Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center.

"I've had a great time the last few weeks, getting settled in and getting adjusted to the move," said Skinner after practice on Sunday. "I think, for me, it's about playing hockey. I'm excited that we're going to play some real games, and I'm looking forward to getting started.

"It's been a lot of fun meeting the guys all the way from a couple of weeks before training camp and obviously through camp. It's been fun to meet and get to know the guys on and off the ice. Hopefully it can keep going in a positive direction."

Skinner's preseason in Buffalo went fairly well as he scored three goals in four games played, while also registering a team-high 13 shots on goal. In the Sabres' preseason finale in against the New York Islanders in Oshawa, Ontario, Skinner scored twice on three shots on goal, including the game-winner in the second period. 

Now that the Sabres' preseason has concluded and the regular season is four days away, Skinner can sense the urge in the locker room for things to get underway.

"At this point in camp, everyone is excited to get going," Skinner said. "I think early on in camp, you're trying to hammer out some details and work through some systems. I think once you get through those parts, you're kind of raring to go, ready for the real games to start. Excited we're at that point now, and we've got a couple more days to prepare and we'll be ready."

As Skinner gets to know his new teammates in Buffalo, he has also gotten to know his new head coach in Phil Housley. He has seen what Housley wants to bring to the table in Buffalo, and he knows that it can lead to success if everything is executed well.

"His career speaks for itself," Skinner said. "He obviously knows the game inside and out. He's also a good communicator. From what I've noticed so far, he gets his message across and makes it easy for guys to know where they are. As a player, that's all you can ask for. I think it's going to, over time, pay off for us, and hopefully we can continue that positive direction."

"I think he's been great," said Housley of his scoring winger. "The way he's playing the game, the things he's doing off the rink in the weight room, and he's a good example for our young guys and also he's contributing offensively."

Sunday's practice was a tough practice for the players as Housley pushed the players after a day off on Saturday. During practice, Skinner was putting in the effort, but was trying to have fun while doing so. After scoring a goal, he would celebrate here and there, while also having some fun with his teammates off to the side. Skinner says that he doesn't always bring that light-hearted nature to training camp, but it is needed during the long stretches of the season.

"When it's appropriate, I goof around a little bit. When coaches want us to be serious, you have to put your serious face on," Skinner said. "It's a long season, there's a lot of practices. For me, that's just the way I get through the long season with a lot of practice. You've got to have some fun out there. It just makes it a little more enjoyable for me."

"Today's practice went pretty hard, and it's good to see the guys enjoying that," Housley said. "Enjoying the work, ribbing each other, and that's part of the game is having fun. It was a good day today."

As of late, Skinner has been skating on the Sabres' top line with Jack Eichel at center and Sam Reinhart on the right wing.

In his time with Carolina, he had skated with a number of different teammates, but none that have the potential impact on a roster that a player like Eichel can have. During the 2016-17 season, Skinner scored a career-high 37 goals playing alongside players like Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, and Derek Ryan among others.

Skinner is looking forward to the opportunity he will have to play alongside Eichel, as well as Reinhart.

"Obviously those two guys are pretty good players, and they also have some pretty good chemistry together." Skinner said. "They've played together for a while and have had some good success. For me, sliding in there, you try to read off them. I think early on in the first few times with them, you try to figure out where they like to be, where they like to put the puck. I think they're great players, they make some great plays out there. I just try to get open and make sure I have my stick on the ice."

At practice on Sunday, Eichel was back on the ice after taking Thursday and Friday off with, what Houlsey called, a lower-body injury.

Also returning to practice on Sunday was Conor Sheary, who has missed some considerable time with an upper-body injury. He was on the left wing wing along with Patrik Berglund at center and Tage Thompson on the right win. Alex Nylander was also rotating in and out with Thompson on the right wing.

Here is how the lines looked:
 

Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart

Sheary-Berglund-Thompson/Nylander

Sobotka-Mittelstadt-Okposo

Girgensons/Wilson-Rodrigues-Pominville


Scandella-Ristolainen

Dahlin-McCabe

Beaulieu-Nelson

Guhle-Tennyson


In the later portion of practice, forward Scott Wilson went down to the ice after taking a hit along the boards from defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. It appeared as though Wilson's right leg rolled up under him as we went down and he immediately came up, writhing in pain. The 26-year-old was helped off the ice by Nathan Beaulieu and Berglund, and was unable to put any pressure on his right leg. Housley was not able to give a further update after practice.

Also of note on Sunday, forwards Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste, as well as defenseman Matt Tennyson all cleared waivers at 12 p.m. Tennyson was practicing with the team on Sunday, while Bailey and Baptiste were not on the ice. Later in the day, the Sabres announced that both Bailey and Baptiste were assigned to the Rochester Americans.

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