RALEIGH, N.C. – After an informal on-ice session at Raleigh Center Ice, Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner talked about his summer.
He once again trained in Mississauga, Ontario, amongst other arena locations in the Toronto area, along with other marquee NHL players like Jason Spezza and John Tavares – similar to past years.
He didn’t really change much for change sake – he just maintained a consistent schedule of skating with the cadre of instructors and coaches who have helped him to develop all areas of his game throughout his career.
“I think every summer you go in always aware of your weaknesses and your strengths,” Skinner said.
“For me, it’s always building off last year. Obviously, when you get back from the season, your body’s a little tired. There may be some imbalances or whatever and you have some tweaks in some areas that that you want to sort of straighten out at the beginning of the summer.”
Following his fourth NHL season in 2013-2014, he topped the Hurricanes lists and set career marks for goals (33), power play goals (11), game-winning goals (6), and shots on goal (274).
His 54 points (33g, 21a) in 71 games placed him second to captain Eric Staal (61 points) on the team’s scoring list.
After posting nine points (3g, 6a) in his first 10 games played, he suffered an apparent hand injury that eventually caused him to miss 11 games, the entire total that he missed for the season, sitting on injured reserve from Oct. 31 (retroactive to Oct. 24) until Nov. 21.
Upon returning to the lineup, he didn’t take long to begin lighting the lamp again.
He eventually scored his first NHL hat trick against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 5, and went on to earn NHL First Star honors the following week after notching five goals and three assists in three games.
He earned the same honor again in early January after scoring six goals to go along with three assists in four games at the time.
For the remainder of the season, he continued to take shots from all angles and seemed to be the only one on the Carolina roster whose attempts made it past opposing goaltenders more often than others did.
Sure, he played through stretches of three, four, or five games of scoreless play, but not without continuing to put pucks on the net which eventually ended up in the net in bunches during subsequent runs.
Coming into the 2014-2015 season, Skinner has continued to use a varied approach and focused on all the little things in order to keep the whole together and functioning consistently.
“For me, it’s sort of doing the same things to get ready for the season,” he continued.
“I think I’m at a point now where I’m not lookin’ to put on weight or to bulk up in any way. Focus for me the last two summers has been on movement patterns. Not as much emphasis on strength, but doing exercises the right way. If you do that, the strength (building), kind of takes care of itself.”
He didn’t do any power skating work specifically like some others have, but focused on hockey-related movement patterns.
“You try and incorporate exercises and drills off the ice that directly relate to what you’re doin’ out there on the ice as much as you can,” Skinner said.
“You want to make sure you’re activating the right muscles. You just focus on that and your range of motion and you don’t have any restrictions in your movements. That helps me out on the ice to be a little more free to be able to float around a bit more like that.”
As far as working on his shooting which allowed him to score from areas that left many watching wondering just how he did it, he had no secrets to offer but to say that he continued to put in the reps needed to translate practice into game success.
“I don’t do anything specific for that,” Skinner said.
“You go into the summer and get into a routine pretty early and once you get into the routine, you’re pretty comfortable with what you’re doin’ and you try to build on things. For me, the routine is workin’ out, but also I see a skills guy to work on my hands – a guy that breaks down shooting, videotaping how you’re shooting technically.”
In addition to keeping in regular contact with his former minor hockey coach with the Toronto Young Nats, Bill Bowler, Skinner continued to work with well-known skills specialists Jari Byrski and Darryl Belfry on his skating, stickhandling and shooting.
“It’s a huge benefit for me, living in Toronto where there are so many hockey instructors,” Skinner said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with guys who have helped me out in that way – sort of piecing things together from different people, finding guys with different specialties, and trying to take as much as you can from each of them.”
These individuals have helped many NHLers, in addition to Skinner, to refine their skills further.
Byrski, who Skinner has worked with since his minor hockey days, has also trained with Staal and Jay Harrison in the past.
In Belfry, the Carolina forward has gotten more of a technical review of his shooting via video work that has helped him with how to train his shooting skills and habits in the offseason.
Watching video of the 22-year old sniper during training sessions provides proof that how he practices – using certain skating patterns and shooting release points on the ice – relates to scoring goals in NHL game situations.
It all makes sense, it’s simple, and has truly worked for him.
All that Skinner has had to do is put in the work as well as to coordinate his calendar to fit all these specialists in and help him to be the best player he can be.
“I piece it together pretty nicely,” Skinner concluded.
“It’s tough to sort of schedule everything, but I’ve got some good help there.”
Hopefully, for the upcoming season, Skinner’s fifth, that well-rounded method of preparation will translate into higher scoring totals for both him and the Hurricanes, and will earn them a spot in the NHL postseason for the first time in his career.