Nine games into the 2013-14 NHL season, Jeff Skinner is restoring his reputation and reviving his career progression at a torrid pace.
Skinner, now 21, currently boasts a Carolina Hurricanes-leading nine points (three goals, six assists) and plus-six rating on the year to date.
The sparkling box-score stat line comes after a disastrous 2012-13 campaign that sparked a plethora of pessimistic predictions and even a sampling of trade rumors. No. 53 scored just nine points over the past 28 games of the Hurricanes' spring season and finished 837th of 839 NHL-ers with a miserable minus-21 rating.
But how, in a matter of seven months, things have changed.
Skinner is almost single-handedly keeping Carolina's underperforming top six afloat and dragging a rusty Tuomo Ruutu back into rhythm. He leads the squad in all of goals, assists, points, plus-minus rating, power-play goals and shots despite averaging a mere 16:05 of ice time per game.
His tough-angle wrister past Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith gave the 'Canes a second-period tie in an otherwise all-around dud effort. His slick backhander on Long Island opened up a cushion big enough for the 'Canes to hold on for a 4-3 win. His falling-to-the-ground rebound goal against Los Angeles was Carolina's only puck past Jonathan Quick, and it earned a valuable point in the standings.
He assisted on both of the Hurricanes' tallies in their first win of the season, 2-1 over Philadelphia. He tacked on two assists in Carolina's comeback win in Washington. He also added a primary assist on Ryan Murphy's first career goal in addition to four shots in the 'Canes third-period rally past Toronto.
Offensively, however, Kirk Muller and Co. have seen this kind of hot start before. Skinner opened up last season with 14 points in his first 13 appearances before his campaign quickly derailed.
It's in the defensive zone where the former seventh overall pick is showing so much improvement.
Skinner has never been regarded as much of a two-way player; his 5'11" frame causes some difficulty, and defensive positioning has never been near the top of his scouting report.
If anything, though, Skinner is tenacious, and that tenacity is showing up in his improved backchecking and covering this October. He leads the team in takeaways per minute.
His in-depth statistics, while not overwhelming, also support this apparent trend. Skinner ranks fairly highly with a 102-98 shot attempt (Corsi) ratio, per Extra Skater data. He's also doing an excellent job preventing many of those opposition shots from coming in dangerous areas, allowing 'Canes goaltenders to post a .966 save percentage during the time he's been on ice.
According to ShiftChart graphics, Skinner's shift frequency has increased during the course of each recent game as well. No. 53 has taken 23 third-period and 25 second-period shifts in the past three games as opposed to just 17 first-period shifts.
How would you grade Jeff Skinner's start to the season?
Skinner's shifts have not occurred against top opposition, though, and his two-way play still needs more consistency and well-roundedness to reach elite levels.
The 21-year-old's relative quality of competition, per Behind the Net, is among the easiest of all Carolina players; his 63.3 offensive-zone start percentage is also incredibly high and equally unsustainable over the course of a full season.
Nonetheless, any argument against Skinner's development into a top-tier forward can be easily refuted by his performance through at least the first nine games of the campaign.
No. 53 has experienced a dream start to the 2013-14 NHL season.