Jeff Skinner joined Buffalo in a trade in 2018. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Jeff Skinner set to play 1,000th game without playoff appearance

BUFFALO – By hockey standards, Jeff Skinner is a bit old. In the modern NHL, 31 has become an advanced age. That’s what makes the veteran winger, who’s expected to play his 1,000th game tonight, such a unique presence on the Sabres.

Just one other player on the roster, winger Zemgus Girgensons, is 30. No one else is older than 28. Only Girgensons has played more than 500 games.

Skinner has played for so long that as a rookie with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010-11, the Sabres made the playoffs.

That, of course, feels like a generation ago.

Skinner, the seventh overall pick in 2010, has enjoyed a long and unique career. He cracked the NHL at 18, scoring 31 goals and earning a spot in the NHL All-Star Game and the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Last season, he had his most productive campaign, setting new career-highs by recording 47 assists, 82 points and a plus-15 rating in 79 games. At an age in which many players are long gone or graying, he evolved into a more new, well-rounded threat.

“You got to have some good luck to get an opportunity to go out there,” Skinner said following Monday’s practice of reaching 1,000 games. “Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to play well, and, yeah, I’m grateful for that.”

Skinner, having scored 357 goals and 669 points, has enjoyed plenty of personal success during his 14-year career. He has surpassed the 30-goal mark six times, including 2018-19, when he scored a career-high 40 times in his first year with the Sabres.

That dazzling season earned him an eight-year, $72 million contract, a massive deal that stunned many hockey observers.

But Skinner, for all of his exploits, has experienced virtually no team success.

The Sabres will celebrate his long and unique career in a pregame ceremony prior to tonight’s game against the Washington Capitals at KeyBank Center. Gifts will be awarded and smiles will be etched on the faces of everyone involved.

Skinner will become the 394th NHL player to play 1,000 regular-season games. He will also become the first to reach the prestigious milestone having never played in a playoff contest.

Incredibly, his teams have missed the postseason every year of his career.

He last played in a playoff game on April 25, 2010, when the Windsor Spitfires eliminated his Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League’s semifinal round.

Sabres coach Don Granato has said if Skinner played an individual sport, he would’ve participated in the playoffs every season.

“I don’t think it’s any reflection on him, negative,” Granato said last season.

But it’s something he’ll carry until it ends.

Barring a miracle run in the last seven games, the Sabres won’t make the playoffs for an NHL-record 13th straight season.

Skinner, like nearly every Sabres scorer, has endured a down season. He has compiled 24 goals, 45 points and a minus-3 rating in 67 games. He has scored seven goals in his last 29 outings. Three came in one game March 18.

He recently lost his spot on the top line. On Monday, he practiced at left wing alongside center Peyton Krebs and winger Lukas Rousek.

Granato said Skinner has handled the “downs” this season “about as well as anybody.”

“He rebounds quick, he rebounds the right way,” he said. “… Any disappointment happens with him, he dials right back in. That’s a pretty good quality in a guy. That’s probably why he’s been so effective for so long.”

Given his age, it’s natural to think Skinner might on the down side of his career. Still, he has shown an ability to bounce back with a vengeance.

Three years ago, when he scored seven goals in 53 games and was a healthy scratch under ex-coach Ralph Krueger, he looked finished. Then he flourished under Granato, scoring 68 goals over the next two seasons while developing into a more mature, trusted player.

So don’t bet against Skinner having a resurgence.

“He’s an intelligent person and he’s an intelligent player, so that intelligence has led him to evolve his game,” Granato said. “He was known when he came into the league as a goal scorer, and he still is a goal scorer, but he’s added pieces to his game every year. And every year that I’ve been around and seen him, he’s adding to his game. …

“So he uses the experience of the past to find a way that can be a benefit to him and what he needs to do. It’s been a real trait that I’ve seen of his, and, really, players don’t stay in this league unless they evolve their game past their physical prime.”

Sabres winger Jordan Greenway missed Monday’s practice with an upper-body injury and needs more evaluation. He’s day to day.

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