Asked today how he would best describe center Jeff Skinner, Kitchener Rangers coach Steve Spott didn't hesitate.
"To me, what separates him from the others is his work ethic and his passion," Spott said. "This kid loves to play. He'll stay on the ice as long as you let him. He loves to play and loves to compete."
Notice that Spott didn't immediately mention Skinner's uncanny ability to score goals. The Canes' first-round draft pick scored 70 goals in 84 regular-season and playoff game for the OHL Rangers last season.
That's a hard total to overlook, is it not?
"To me, he's a lot like Mike Richards and Derek Roy," Spott said. "Those players are different because they make others around them better. That's what Jeff does."
Skinner and most of the Canes' other recent draftees are in Raleigh this week for rookie camp and Pete Friesen's famed conditioning workouts. One noticeable absentee is defenseman Mark Alt, but general manager Jim Rutherford said today that Alt is taking summer academic courses and is unable to attend.
Spott, of course, will discuss Skinner's scoring ability, and at some length. Skinner, a Markham, Ontario, native, is not a late bloomer when it comes to finding the back of the net, the coach said.
"He was born with that," Spott said. "When he has the puck, other teams get nervous. They know something is going to happpen.
"He's dangerous anywhere inside the blue line but it's when he scores and where he scores that, to me, separates him as an elite player. He isn't afraid to go into the dark areas."
Spott said Skinner, who has a low center of gravity at 5-10 and 190 pounds, also gets a bad rap when referred to as an average skater, saying Skinner is an "under-rated skater."
"Scouts have to find some knocks on these kids," Spott said. "I do not think it will hurt him at the NHL level."
Spott noted Skinner still is developing as a defensive player but called him a "quick learner" who can grasp new systems quickly.
As for making the jump from the OHL to the NHL in a year's time, Spott said that's a decision to be made by Rutherford, Canes' coach Paul Maurice and management.
"Knowing Jimmy and Paul, I'm obviously extremely comfortable in how they will evaluate him," Spott said. "I can say Jeff will give Paul everything he can handle. Jeff will not cheat them on anything."