Buffalo Sabres, Jeff Skinner

Sabres’ Jeff Skinner Poised For Another Impact Season

Since being removed from the fourth line while under the poor management of former coach Ralph Krueger, Jeff Skinner has been one of the Buffalo Sabres’ best forwards. This past season he proved it once again by putting up some career numbers, and there is no reason to think he cannot replicate that success in 2023-24. He has always been known as a goal scorer, and that is why the Sabres signed him to an eight-year $72-million contract extension in 2019. On top of that, he has a very distinct talent for drawing penalties while playing a pest role, and he is one of the best in the league at doing it.

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While Skinner’s tenure in Buffalo has had its ups and downs, he has still remained the same player that they brought in to be a spark plug for their offense. Krueger may have been the worst coach in Sabres history, and it almost took a massive toll on the players, but since Don Granato has taken over the bench, Skinner’s resurgence has been nothing short of exciting and extraordinary. He looked his best in 2022-23, and all signs point to him having a similar year in 2023-24.

The Krueger Years Did Not Break Skinner

As bad as some of the playoff drought years have been for the Sabres, the worst ones were undoubtedly under the control of Krueger before he was fired in 2021. From 2019-2021, Skinner posted two seasons of career lows, scoring 14 goals and 23 points and seven goals and 14 points in those two years. Additionally, he only played in 112 games during that span of time while also producing career lows in shots (111), shooting percentage (6.3%) and power play points (one) in 2020-21.

Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger
Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger talks with Sabres players Jeff Skinner, Evan Rodrigues and Curtis Lazar (AP Photo/John Beale)

Despite all these trials and tribulations that Skinner went through, he persevered and kept a positive attitude despite being buried on the fourth line alongside Johan Larsson every night. His effort was always there, and even when he wasn’t scoring goals, he still was playing the pest role and contributing while he was on the ice. His severely lowered average ice time in 2020-21 (14:31) was a big reason he dropped off in production, but he showed flashes during those years that if he was given a top-six opportunity, he would take advantage of it. Don Granato saw this and gradually moved Skinner up the lineup once he took over as head coach.

Granato Found The Perfect Place For Skinner

It did not take long for Granato to put Skinner in a position to succeed. In his first year under his new coach, he posted a 33-goal and 30-assist season to tie his former career high in points at 63. It was a massive turnaround for Skinner, but he was not finished. This past season in 2022-23, he put up a career-high in assists (47) and points (82) while flourishing on the top line with Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch. He was not just a bystander who benefitted from his high-end teammates either, he was an active participant that made the trio as dangerous as it was.

Jeff Skinner Buffalo Sabres
Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Skinner really found his playmaking touch this season without losing any of his goal scoring prowess. His $9-million cap hit feels very justified based on what he brings to the table each night. Granato has found the perfect spot for him to be the best version of himself, and in 2023-24 he will be doing what he does best. With the Sabres’ top-six being as skilled as it is, Skinner could play with any combination of players from the list and still be a major contributor. Now it is just a matter of the season starting to really see how it all plays out.

Skinner’s Final Years Will Be Exciting

There are still four more years remaining on Skinner’s contract, so the Sabres have a lot left to get out of him. The goal is obviously to make the playoffs this year, and he will be a massive factor in whether or not they can do it. He has unfortunately never made a playoff appearance, so this would be his first one, and it is beyond exciting to see what a player like him would do under that kind of pressure. Players like him always play a key role in their team’s victories towards a Stanley Cup, and he would not be an exception. Matthew Tkachuk and Brad Marchand play similar roles and they were huge factors in their respective playoff runs over the years. Skinner would be following in their footsteps to become that spark his team needs on a nightly basis.

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There is still a ways to go before the Sabres need to decide on Skinner’s fate in the blue and gold. They have a number of key prospects in their system that could play a similar role in the next couple of years (most notably Matt Savoie and Zach Benson) but while they continue their development, he will continue to be a massive piece of the Sabres’ offense. I can easily see him posting similar numbers to last season, but I believe they will drop slightly as I see him putting up a 37-goal and 80-point campaign. There is a chance he hits the 40-goal mark again, but that depends on if his center is Thompson or Casey Mittelstadt. Either way, he has been a dynamite player for the Sabres since his resurgence, and he will continue to be for many years to come.

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