There were some good signs for the Carolina Hurricanes from their schedule-opening two games in Helsinki, Finland.
And not just because they came away with wins in both games against the Minnesota Wild.
Starting off that way is always a good thing certainly, especially for the Hurricanes, who are transitioning to a younger roster of players and still remember how a miserable start destroyed them a year ago. The ‘Canes probably don’t want to read too much into these overseas wins, especially against a Minnesota team that seems destined to be in the lottery hunt, but the wins count and more important, Carolina did a lot of things right.
And the ‘Canes got some really fine work from goalie Cam Ward in both games. Ward, along with captain Eric Staal, are keys to Carolina’s playoff hopes, but one player who made it clear he’ll be worth keeping an an eye on is rookie Jeff Skinner.
Skinner 18 and was the seventh pick overall in June, and hasn’t received anywhere near the kind of attention the top two picks, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, have had. But Skinner drew raves from scouts around the league at Carolina’s rookie camp in July and then had a great regular training camp, making the club, at least for the time being.
The Hurricanes can let him play in nine games before having to decide whether to return him to junior and thereby preserve a year of contract eligibility. But watching Skinner in his first two games, it’s hard to see him being sent back.
Skinner even scored the winner in Game 2 on a shootout goal, although that won’t go down as his first official NHL point. No, his first point was an assist earlier in the game when he beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to the puck in a foot race and started a play that ended with Jarkko Ruutu’s tying goal.
But the play that really said this kid looks special won't show up on the scoresheet. It came midway through the overtime when Skinner took a lead pass in the neutral zone and split the Minnesota defense to create a great scoring chance. Skinner was stopped on the play, but charged to the back the net and single-handedly kept Minnesota defenseman Greg Zanon and then his partner Nick Schultz going side to side and unable to get the puck out.
The scouting reports all said Skinner was a great skater with big-time instincts around the net. Looks like he’s trying to prove it.