The start of Jeff Skinner's professional career was almost too good to be true. After being drafted seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, he immediately joined the big club and, despite his inexperience, looked more like an accomplished veteran than a bright-eyed rookie. He was fast. Smart. Elusive. Often times, mesmerizing.
Quickly, while in the process of winning the Calder Trophy and being named the youngest All-Star in league history, he emerged as one of the sport's most marketable up-and-coming players. It wasn't difficult to see why. In total, the Markham, Ont., native notched 31 goals and 32 assists in his first NHL campaign.
En route to the accolades, popularity and success, Skinner didn't experience a 10-game period with less than four points. He didn't miss a single contest in that span, either, managing to avoid serious injury despite his size and fearless play.
The Canes would go on to miss the playoffs by two points, but with a solid core, it felt as if Skinner would help usher in a new, exciting era of hockey in the Triangle.
Of course, none of this went as planned.
The Canes haven't come close to the postseason since, and a couple of head coaches have been fired as a result. And Skinner's remarkable start, now a distant memory, hasn't led to what virtually everyone expected.
This is hardly his fault, of course; Skinner has suffered several documented concussions, including one last October. These head injuries, along with growing pains and a poor supporting cast, have brought his stats down quite a bit: Skinner racked up only 0.69 and 0.57 points per game in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively -- not bad numbers, but not the kind of production expected from someone who lit the lamp 31 times as a teen.
Skinner reached the 30-goal mark again in 2013-14, but he's struggled this season under new bench boss Bill Peters. Through Feb. 7, he registered only 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 47 games. Peters reportedly thought about making Skinner a healthy scratch at one point during their recent West Coast swing -- a move that would have been justified.
Skinner has certainly faced a lot of hardship this season, but he's also had some impressive stretches -- including the one he's in the midst of right now. Given the way he's performed of late, the hockey world should take a moment to remember why he's held in such a high regard, and why he remains on track to have a bright future.
After failing to register a point in 10 straight games from Jan. 13 to Feb. 7, Skinner has scored in six of his last eight appearances. This includes an impressive goal on Saturday in which he beat Washington keeper Braden Holtby with one of his lethal wristers.
Yeah, he still has it.
Lots of us (myself included) are guilty of bestowing unrealistic expectations on kids like Skinner while their peers are cramming for tests and playing beer pong. They're unfairly pressured to get better and better even though they're bound to hit some bumps along the way.
For perspective, Washington rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov is only three days Skinner's junior. Folks wonder if Skinner's early success was a fluke, yet they laud this Russian prospect who not only just broke into the league, but is also more of a work in progress than the Carolina winger.
So it's important to remember Skinner's only 22. He has two 30-goal seasons under his belt. He's well on his way to eclipsing 20 this year. And, through all the adversity, he's yet to finish a season without decent offensive numbers.
Yes, we should definitely worry about Skinner's brain. One more concussion could mean a lot of trouble. But we shouldn't worry about much else.
As long as he stays healthy, he has all the tools needed to shine.