A funny thing happened to the Windsor Spitfires on the way to defending their title at the Memorial Cup tournament in Brandon: Jeff Skinner and the Kitchener Rangers got in the way, that's what!
Taylor Hall and the rest of his Spits mates have been overshadowed by Skinner's heroics in the OHL's Eastern Conference final series, with the Rangers taking a 3 games to none lead on the back of the league's regular season goal scoring (50) leader's four goals and six points. In 16 playoff games for Kitchener, Skinner has as many tallies and 27 points, staking a legitimate claim (stranglehold?) on playoff MVP honors. His postseason totals, when combined with his regular season numbers give him 66 goals and 117 points in 80 games.
I started following Skinner last summer, when he was a key part of Team Canada's gold medal entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia. He scored a hat trick in the final contest, demonstrating his killer instinct in the big moment.
Much is made about Skinner's lack of size and speed, but he compensates for those shortcomings with incredible lower body strength and balance borne from a background in figure skating. He may not be great defensively, but he's a willing worker and at least hustles, which is an entirely different animal from a player who just doesn't give a $#@! about backchecking (O, Pavel Brendl, wherefore art thou?)
I once thought that the Bruins might be able to steal Skinner at around 15, but have now completely given up that thought. Nobody's getting Skinner at 15...or maybe even 10 for that matter.
No, if you're going to get this kid, you now need a pick firmly inside the top-10 to have a shot. Pure goal scorers with his nose for the net and big game ability are the most sought-after commodity in the NHL draft after the quintessential cornerstone two-way shutdown D (a la Chris Pronger and Drew Doughty), so with the cat now so clearly out of the bag with Skinner outdueling Hall by a wide margin in that series, the youngster from Markham, Ontario isn't slipping by anyone.
Yeah-- that 34th overall ranking from Central is looking worse with every passing day that the Rangers are in the playoffs. Skinner's taken it not only to a whole new level, but another plane of existence.
The kid is a gamer, and some NHL team picking high has no doubt recognized that and will reward him accordingly in Los Angeles.