By now you all have probably heard the trade – Jeff Skinner has been sent to the Buffalo Sabres for Cliff Pu and a collection of picks. Cam and Ian have touched on the trade already but I wanted to give my two cents on the topic. Over the past few years, Skinner has actually been one of the best goalscorers in the NHL, and has been criminally underutilized in Carolina. In Buffalo he should be entering the best situation of his career and will be put in the best possible position to succeed, something that wasn't really done in Carolina. Looking for a big new contract next summer, Skinner may be in store for a huge fantasy year.
Even though he's not the first name that comes to your head when you think of elite goal scorer, Skinner has been one of the most underrated goal scorers since he entered the league. Last season hurt his reputation a bit, but his regular stats don't tell the whole story. Even though his 49 points last season were tied for just the 119th most in the NHL, Skinner still managed to score the 44th most even-strength goals in the league. Even in a down year with one of the worst shooting percentages over his career Skinner still put up a solid amount of goals. There's also plenty of evidence to believe that this year was simply a down year instead of the new normal for Skinner. He's shown in the past that he can put the puck in the net and has been an excellent goal scorer throughout his entire career. Over the last three seasons he is tied for the 12th most goals in the NHL and has the 16th highest goals-per-game rate since he was drafted (out of all players who've played in at least 300 games).
So why would Skinner take such a drastic step up from his 49 points from last year? Besides being one of the best consistent goalscorers over his career, Skinner is entering one of the best situations possible (after going from one of the worst). Everyone knew that the Hurricanes were trying to get rid of Skinner (blaming him for their many on-ice problems) and the relationship between him and the team started to sour. More forwards passed him on the depth chart and he wasn't relied on as a top scorer (getting only the eighth-most power play time on the team in his last season). In Buffalo though, he will be joining a team that just lost Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, their first and third-highest played forwards. Both Kane and O'Reilly were averaging over 19 minutes of ice time per game with the Sabres and taking this available time will give Skinner much more opportunities to score. In Carolina, the most average time on ice Skinner ever got was just below 19 minutes per game, and this was in his second season in Carolina (over seven years ago). And in just the past five years Skinner has only averaged 16:47 of ice time. With a huge boost in ice time (including power-play time), we could easily see Skinner start producing numbers similar to those from his Calder Trophy winning season.
Along with that, heading to Buffalo (where he'll be around the second best forward on team) means that Skinner will get to play with much better linemates. Back in Carolina, he was stuck playing with some less-than-ideal partners while Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen leaped over him on the depth chart. According to the Frozen Pool line combinations, Skinner's two most common line combinations last season were Derek Ryan and Justin Williams and Lee Stempniak (not exactly game-breaking offensive talents). With the Sabres though, Skinner is almost sure to spend some time with Jack Eichel, the 21-year-old former second overall pick who almost averaged a point per game over the last two years. Similar to the players who get to spend a lot of time next to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, Eichel's explosive offensive totals should spill over to Skinner and help him with his offensive totals.
Many are probably aware of the simple fact that Skinner's fantasy value increases after being traded to the Buffalo Sabres, but there still may be a lot of potential with him. After a 49-point season, fantasy owners may only be expecting a small jump in Skinner's value, while he has the potential to have a huge season for the fantasy owners who bet on him.
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