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Skinner looks to follow-up Calder Trophy season with a playoff berth

Sep 13, 2011, 7:38 PM EDT

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Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals Getty Images

Talk about the charmed-life. Jeff Skinner has been living the dream from the moment he was selected 7th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes last June. Some would tell you it started before that when he was piling up the goals in Kitchener for his junior club. After all, it’s hard to argue with 50 goals in only 64 games. But from the moment that he scored the game-winning shootout goal in his second ever NHL game – in Europe no less – it looked like the 2010-11 season was going to be one of those years for Skinner. Nine months later he had an all-star appearance, a 30-goal season, and a Calder Trophy under his belt. Some guys would be satisfied with that kind of season.

So how would a guy like Skinner follow-up his fantastic freshman season without falling into the pitfall of the sophomore slump? How about a chance to experience playoff hockey? Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News Observer caught up with Skinner at the team’s informal workouts at RBC Center:

“As for expectations this season, Skinner isn’t setting any numbers for himself. You won’t hear him talking about trying to score, say, 40 goals. That, he said, might only sidetrack from what he really wants to do: make it to the playoffs and experience that for the first time.

“‘Obviously we missed by one (victory) last year,” [Skinner] said. ‘That’s not a good feeling and I think everyone will use that as motivation. We’ll come back and hopefully be in the mix this year.’”

For the record, an answer that reflects team goals over individual goals is going to go a long way towards endearing himself towards fans (like he needs any help in that department). But still, the Carolina Hurricanes (and Dallas Stars) have had the entire season to think about how things could have been different if they pulled out a win in their final games of the season. Even though the Canes would have faced the daunting task of facing the Capitals in the first-round, youngsters like Skinner, Jaime McBain, and Brandon Sutter could have used the experience as a step in the maturation process. Everyone agrees that NHL players take it to another level when the playoffs start—there’s no substitute for young players than to get a taste of the playoff intensity for themselves.

This season, most experts expect the Hurricanes to finish in the middle of the pack in both the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Maple Leafs, Devils, and Jets will all be in the same boat—trying to get back into the playoffs after missing out in April last season. Of that group, only the Hurricanes had a playoff spot within their grasp before watching it slip away against the Lightning in the final game of the season. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Only the Hurricanes have that extreme disappointment that will help fuel the fire this season.

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