Jeff Skinner Has Replaced Eric Staal as Leader of the Carolina Hurricanes

Apr 4, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner (53) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner (53) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

The season may be closing, but from the last month forward, Jeff Skinner has officially cemented his place as the Carolina Hurricanes leader.

It was fitting, wasn’t it. On the night the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild honored Canes great Eric Staal, his former pupil, Jeff Skinner came out firing. Even though the Hurricanes came out on the wrong end on Tuesday, they lived and breathed by Skinner. It just goes to show how far the kid has come.

There was once a time when Eric Staal drafted a wide eyed, 18 year old Jeff Skinner in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game draft. At that event, Skinner jokingly said he gave his captain a little extra space in the locker room. He might have been kidding, but the sentiment was there. Staal was Carolina’s master, and Skinner the apprentice and heir apparent.

A Long Road Here

A lot has happened since the early success of Skinner. Two concussions, some more nagging injuries, inconsistency, and bad hockey. The glimpses of dominance were always present. It just usually came in spurts, going away after three or four games.

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The same can be said about Staal. Clearly the weight of carrying a struggling team proved too heavy. The captain wasn’t the same since 2013. His young apprentice wasn’t the same since 2011.

When it came time for Eric Staal to depart Raleigh, something changed though. This was new ground for Skinner. His leader and mentor jetted off to New York, and he was left with the pieces. Even with Jordan Staal still present, weight was thrust upon him. Whether it was official or not, the Carolina Hurricanes were now Skinner’s team.

He responded about as well as anyone could. In the 19 remaining games of last season, Skinner scored 16 points, pretty good all things considered. That fantastic closing paved the way for a great start to this campaign. Despite playing well, Skinner still hadn’t truly been declared leader. That is until March rolled around.

Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes /

Carolina Hurricanes

Since March 1st, Jeff Skinner has 21 points. Of those points, an incredible 15 of them are goals. He is now tied with Max Pacioretty for 7th in the league in goals with 35 (a career high for Skinner). At this rate, Skinner should score more points this season than he ever has in his career, a mark set in his rookie year.

For me personally though, the moment Skinner took command of this team wasn’t through his stats. No, it was when he showed to will to take over a game. We have seen this before. Of course he did it in 2010-11, and we briefly saw it in 2013-14, but never has he been as dominant for as long than over the last month or so.

Skinner Unleashed

That quality was always there within Skinner, everyone saw it. We just were waiting until its full potential was unleashed. This past four weeks, we have seen peak Jeff Skinner and its incredible.

The last time a Hurricanes player display this type of drive was with Eric Staal. People are blinded by his final few years to forget that he could flat out play. Many times he’d carry the Hurricanes on his back. It was apparent once that level of tenacity was gone, the Canes stood no chance.

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Guess what? With Jeff Skinner at the helm, right now, its back. That is something Canes fans have waited a long time for and wanted desperately. Maybe even more so than the playoffs. We have been clamoring for that combination of skill, effort, and dominance that helped us make three Eastern Conference Finals in the 2000’s and win a Cup in 2006.

Technically, the Canes captaincy is still vacant. In spirit, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Right now, Jeff Skinner is in command of this ship. It might have taken him a while to get on board with that, but now that he has, it looks like a great fit.

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That brings me back to Tuesday game against the Wild. In a game that honored one of, if not, Carolina’s best and the mentor to Jeff Skinner, it was fitting to see both go at it. Staal was a big part of the Wild’s win and Skinner, he did his darnedest to get his team the win. It was ceremonious moment. The apprentice has now truly become the master.