In the last three games of the season, Coach Kirk Muller tried Jeff Skinner at center, a position he had not played in since his junior days with the Kitchener Rangers. Skinner looked fine in the position, but he should not stay at that spot.
Muller said after the season he wanted to use Skinner as a ‘plus-player’ and a ‘two-way forward.’ Of course it is important for your top players to be responsible defensively, but Muller may be implying that he wants Skinner to be a typical shut-down third line center.
With Skinner’s skill it would be a waste to utilize the 20-year-old in that role. Skinner has shown he has 30 to 40 goal potential and improves the Hurricane’s top six by a huge margin.
It’s possible that Muller would like to set up his offense similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins – two elite centers (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) in the top six and then a defensive center (Brandon Sutter) capable of scoring on the third line. If this is what Muller is trying to do, he should use Jordan Staal as the third-line center and Jeff Skinner on the second line.
Staal has already been used in that role when he was with the Pens and is much better defensively than Skinner. Skinner also has a better offensive skill set than Staal.
If Skinner is used again as one of the Staal’s winger, the Hurricanes have a few options at filling the third-line center position in free agency.
Former Cane Matt Cullen is a free agent, along with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood, who are all players that can perform in a defensive center role with any NHL team. The Canes may have to pay a little bit more to bring a player like that to Carolina, but it would be worth it.
The Canes could also try using one of their roster players in that position such as Tim Brent or Pat Dwyer.
Skinner is a great goal-scorer and arguably the best sniper on the Hurricanes’ roster. Moving him to a defensive role will only hurt the team’s scoring.