Jeff Skinner has scored a team-high 17 goals this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Jeff Skinner among Sabres greats as he keeps evolving, scoring goals

BUFFALO – These days, you rarely hear about that hefty contract Sabres winger Jeff Skinner signed five years ago. The 14-year veteran has not only recaptured his scoring prowess under coach Don Granato, he has evolved into a consistent, multi-faceted threat.

In averaging 34 goals and 73 points over the past two seasons, the struggles Skinner, 31, endured three and four years ago – he mustered six goals and 11 points during a wretched 66-game stretch – have become a distant memory. As the Sabres have added and developed more talent, he has even become overshadowed.

A slew of Sabres, including Skinner, who compiled 35 goals and 82 points in 2022-23, enjoyed career seasons last year.

Skinner’s regular center, Tage Thompson, flirted with 50 goals and 100 points. His other linemate, winger Alex Tuch, scored 36 goals.

Center Dylan Cozens scored 31 times. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin recorded 73 points. Center Casey Mittelstadt registered 59 points. Despite some struggles, winger Victor Olofsson potted 28 goals.

Skinner, who could return from an upper-injury this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center, had never compiled more points or assists (47). But he’s expected to produce offense. His teammates had never reached those heights.

So Skinner, who has scored a team-high 17 goals and 33 points in 38 games this season, has flown under the radar a bit. And no one seems to mention that eight-year, $72 million contract.

“I’ve seen him adapt his game,” said Granato, whose Sabres close a six-game home stand this afternoon. “I can remember even when I got here (as an assistant coach in 2019), he was not under the radar, obviously. He had just signed a big deal and it was goals, goals, goals. And everything was measured on goals and not goals.”

Well, to some degree, Skinner can still be measured on goals. Very quietly, he has joined some elite company in franchise history. Having compiled seasons of 40, 33 and 35 goals, he’s one of 12 players to have scored 30 or more goals at least three times.

Right now, Skinner’s on pace to score 34 times this season. If he can reach one of hockey’s prestigious marks again, he will surpass Mike Foligno, Pat LaFontaine, Miroslav Satan and Pierre Turgeon, all of whom had three seasons of 30 or more goals in Buffalo.

But as Granato said, Skinner does more than score goals. In their late 20s and early 30s, players usually don’t add much to their game. Many are already declining.

Skinner has morphed into a better playmaker while becoming a more consistent scorer and reliable presence.

“He’s evolved his game,” Granato said following Friday’s practice. “He always has been an intelligent player, but now I think he’s self-taught more playmaking, more situational awareness and reads. So he’s dangerous in many more ways I’ve seen him in the last three years now than just the normal way you think of Jeff Skinner scoring. …

“He’s disruptive, he makes plays up and down the rink at another level than maybe he did prior or earlier in his career. He certainly is that way around the net.”

Skinner, who has played 970 NHL games, said “there’s not really sort of an age limit on trying to develop parts of your game.”

“Playing with Tommer, he’s a pretty good goal scorer,” said Skinner, who scored his 350th career goal in his last appearance Jan. 9. “You’re going to get some assists just by giving him the puck. He kind of creates out of nothing.”

Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said Skinner’s “never going to lose that goal-scoring touch.”

“The biggest thing for him is the threat that he’s created as a passer,” he said.

While the Sabres have gone 3-1-0 without Skinner, they’ve felt his absence.

“He brings a competitiveness, a fire, a burn to be successful under any circumstance or situation,” Granato said. “The building could be completely dead, but this guy just wants to play. He wants the puck and he wants to make a play and he wants to score a goal. He wants to be a difference-maker, and … that’s a culture driver, that’s what it is.

“He helps create the urgency of the moment. He brings guys into, ‘This matters now,’ and that’s why he’s so accomplished in his career because every moment matters, and that’s what you miss when you don’t have him.”

One thought on “Jeff Skinner among Sabres greats as he keeps evolving, scoring goals”

  1. Well put. Jeff Skinner does his job well, and rarely if ever gets praise for it. Jeff Skinner is not the reason the Buffalo Sabres are poorly constructed, nor has Jeff Skinner’s contract ever held the Sabres back in any way. Does he play any semblance of defense: nope. Is he expected to: nope.

    On the list of problems for the Buffalo Sabres it should begin with the GM and Coach and not get to Jeff Skinner until about # 25.

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