Is Skinner a Winner or Chicken Dinner?

by Matt Cane with Rob Vollman on September 24, 2015

Will Jeff Skinner rebound to his 30-goal ways?

Matt Cane and Rob Vollman have devised a system to project a player's future performance by finding players with common statistics historically (Vollman, on the left) and in the modern day (Cane, on the right). This article is part of a series to introduce readers to their system, and to demonstrate how it can give you an edge in fantasy hockey.

Looking to nab a 30-goal-scorer in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft? If so, of the 22 active players to have managed this feat at least twice in the past five years, one of the few likely to remain available is Jeff Skinner.

Starting his career off with a bang, the 18-year-old Hurricane earned the Calder trophy by scoring 31 points and 63 points in 2010-11. His scoring totals have bounced around since then, going as high as 33 goals in 71 games in 2013-14, and as low as 18 goals and 31 points last year.

The up-and-down nature of Skinner's young career make a challenging test for this new system to find similar historical players (on the left) and his modern-day equivalents (on the right).

Rob's Take: Even with this extra edge, it is really hard to know what to make of Jeff Skinner. Both lists include both legitimate stars and merely secondary support players. They even include some fellow enigmas, like Eric Daze on the left, and Jason Williams on the right.

It's also really hard to peg Skinner's "true" shooting percentage. It's been as high as 14.4% in his rookie year, and as low as 7.7% last year. Likewise, he was 4 for 10 in the shootout in his rookie year, and just 2 for 17 since then. Is this guy a top-line goal scorer, or not?

One thing is for sure, that Skinner will be given every possibly opportunity to score this year. He has that massive contract that carries a $5.725 million cap hit for the next four years, Carolina is without a lot of alternative top-line scoring threats, and Skinner is quite exclusively an offensive-minded player – in traditional terms, his minus-59 since the 2013 lockout is third-worst behind only Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner. The one exception to that statement is drawing penalties – over the past five years, Skinner has drawn 165 of them, third in the NHL behind Dustin Brown and Claude Giroux, while taking only 65 of his own.

In my view, the historical comparables merely serve to reinforce the unpredictability of Skinner's upcoming age-23 season, and establish that his chances of scoring 30 goals is probably around one-in-four or one-in-five. Grab him if he's available later than he should be, but be quick on the trigger if a slow start knocks him off Carolina's top line.

Matt's Take: Figuring out who the real Jeff Skinner is has been difficult in his first five years in Carolina. After bursting onto the scene with 63 points as an 18 year old rookie, the former Kitchener Ranger has struggled to find the same scoring touch that saw him take home the 2011 Calder Trophy. His projections paint a similar picture of a player with enormous upside, but also the potential to fall into 3rd line obscurity fairly quickly.

At the top end, it’s not hard to be excited about Thomas Vanek’s sophomore year coming in as Skinner’s second closest modern match. While Vanek struggled in his first year with the Wild last season, he was dominant in the early part of his career, and with his past success it’s not hard to envision Skinner following in Vanek’s footsteps and re-establishing himself as one of the games top scorers. Even if you think reaching Vanek’s level is a bit farfetched, it’s not hard to see someone who once scored 63 points reaching the level of a Tomas Tatar or mid-career Chris Kunitz and putting up another 50+ point campaign.

The downside of the projections though is somewhat scary. Wojtek Wolski had a similar strong start to his career before falling off steeply after age 23, so seeing his second last NHL season as a comparable should offer some concern for fantasy owners. Similarly, while Steve Downie has managed to keep an NHL roster spot after falling off of his early career scoring pace, seeing him as Skinner’s top comparable doesn’t exactly lend credence to the idea that Skinner will find his scoring touch again in the coming year.

Also worrisome is the supporting cast that Carolina will be icing alongside Skinner this year. The Staal brothers aren’t having the same level of impact that Hurricanes management had hoped they would when they signed them to big money deals, and Cam Ward is far from the top tier goaltender he looked like when he was younger. While they’re unlikely to be as bad as the Sabres or Coyotes were last year, don’t expect Skinner to get a whole lot of help in padding his stats from him teammates.

With all of that being said, we shouldn’t be losing hope for the youngest player ever to play in an NHL All-Star game. The majority of his modern comparables are legitimate top-six scorers, even if they aren’t necessarily at the top of the points list every year. With the state of the Hurricanes roster for the coming year, splitting the difference between the two projection systems is probably the most likely case for the former Kitchener Ranger, with a 20 goal/25 assist stat line looking like a reasonable estimate.

For complete projections on over 700 active NHL players, Vollman and Cane Historical Projections 2015 is available exclusively through the Dobber store for just $4.99 – or it's free if you bought the Fantasy Guide using the coupon code on page 151!