He still looks like he'd need parental supervision to go on the big rides at Fun Mountain, but on the issue of whether Mark Scheifele should stay in the bigs or head back to junior, Jeff Skinner is the grizzled voice of experience.
Skinner, the Carolina Hurricanes' star forward and NHL Rookie of the Year, was in the same situation as Scheifele, the Winnipeg Jets' 18-year-old phenom, is in now. He jumped off the page early in Canes camp this time last year and even though he still looks years away from putting a razor to stubble on his face, proved he could play against men every night.
So if there was a way the two could sit down and chat, Skinner would offer this advice to the young Jet trying to follow in his footsteps in Winnipeg:
"He's got to try and keep an even keel," Skinner said Wednesday after the Hurricanes' morning skate at the MTS Centre. "When things aren't going well, it's easy to get down on yourself. The same thing happens when things are going well -- you can get too high.
"It's taking it day by day. I know it's a cliché, but you have to keep that even keel and stay focused on playing hockey."
Skinner managed to do that and then some last year, scoring 31 goals and adding 32 assists while playing all 82 games en route to winning the Calder. And just like Scheifele, he worked through training camp a year ago busting his hump while trying to keep his eyes wide open.
"It's the same situation exactly, where you're not sure where you're going to be," Skinner said. "When it starts to become clear and you can predict it, that's when you can go out and focus on what you're doing and not be worried about the future and what's going to happen down the road, because it will all fall into place if you work hard.
"He's doing a great job. I haven't seen him too much... I've seen one game, but he definitely played well."
Scheifele is still without a contract from the Jets, but should he sign, he could play nine games before the club would have to decide whether to send him back to Barrie of the OHL or stay with the big club.
Skinner said he started to get a good vibe early about sticking with the Canes.
"Around the seventh game, I started to think I would be staying," he said. "Last year we had a weird situation: We went to Europe to start the year and then when we got back, we were on a West Coast swing. When we got back from there and going into my eighth game, they told me to move out of the hotel and get an apartment. And then it kicked in officially for my 10th game."
Even then, Carolina head coach Paul Maurice said the organization studied Skinner closely -- how he handled travel, the expectations and the mental and physical marathon that is life in the NHL.
"You bring up a young player like that, you're always watching and waiting for a sign that the season's getting to him, the grind's getting to him," Maurice said. "But he just got better and better in good increments. It wasn't great one night and then (taking) five off... he just slowly got better. We watched him close for fatigue or any sign of that, but his best hockey was played in the last eight weeks of the season.
"There was a point where we went on a pretty good run and he was playing with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen and they were our best offensive line ahead of (Eric) Staal's line. He handled everything. He was at our prospect camp, our training camp, the regular season, the All-Star Game weekend and was playing his best hockey at the end. We learned early on just not to put any limitations on what he is capable of doing."
Interestingly, it's a template the Jets could follow closely with their own young ace.
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