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Maple Leafs trade target: Jeff Skinner

The Toronto native is a high-end scorer, and the Leafs should try to add him to their long-term future.

Carolina Hurricanes v Toronto Maple Leafs
Jeff Skinner could join Kasperi Kapanen to help the Leafs build one of the fastest teams in the NHL.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Jeff Skinner is available, and the Leafs should be all over the opportunity to acquire him. Carolina is looking for a first round pick and a prospect in exchange for the 26-year old winger, reports Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and he’s under contract for one more season at $5.725 million. As a Markham native, Skinner would be given the chance to play for his hometown team, and the Maple Leafs could look to extend his contract rather than paying the older, and perhaps more expensive, James van Riemsdyk.

Skinner is known as a tremendous skater, as he’s a former figure skater with impressive edge-work. He’s durable, having missed only three games in the last three years, and he finished twelfth in the league in shots on goal last season. He also owns the third best penalty differential at 5 on 5 over the past three seasons, trailing only Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau.

During this time, only thirteen players have scored more primary points per minute than Skinner at 5 on 5 (min 2000 TOI): Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Evgeni Malkin, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Mark Scheifele, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Thomas Vanek, Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Steven Stamkos, and Nikita Kucherov.

The next ten players behind Skinner in this statistic are: Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko, Aleksander Barkov, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Artemi Panarin, James van Riemsdyk, John Tavares, and Rickard Rakell.

Should the Leafs Spend Assets To Acquire a Winger?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Most Leafs fans would rather see the team trade their valuable assets on a centre or defenceman, rather than paying a high price for a winger. Here’s the problem: it’s incredibly difficult to acquire a centre or defenceman who is as valuable as Skinner.

In terms of CMHockey66’s data, Skinner was worth 9.18 goals above replacement last season, and this is was in a bit of a down year for him. Finding an available centre who is this valuable is a difficult task, as Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and Paul Stastny could cost a fortune. The same holds true with defencemen, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, John Carlson, and Dougie Hamilton are not exactly coming to Toronto for free.

Skinner is one of the best 5v5 scorers in the game today, and if you have the chance to add him to your organization, you should strongly consider it. He’s also put up these Kucherov-like results with second and third line calibre forwards, rather than playing plenty of minutes with Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, or Teuvo Teravainen. Back in ‘15-’16, Skinner’s most common linemates were Victor Rask, Phillip Di Giuseppe, and Riley Nash. That changed to Rask, Lee Stempniak, and Derek Ryan during his big 37 goal season, and there is little question Skinner was the driving force of this line. Finally, his most common linemate was Ryan this year, and he also spent time with Elias Lindholm, Justin Williams, Rask, and Di Giuseppe. While most of the NHL’s top goal scorers played alongside high-end playmakers, Skinner has been finding the back of the net without a Joe Thornton or Nicklas Backstrom type of talent by his side.

If the Hurricanes had traded Jeff Skinner last offseason, following his 37 goal season, it would have taken an arm and a leg to acquire him. With an 8.7% shooting percentage last season, well below his career average of 10.7%, Skinner scoring total fell to “just” 24 goals. His normal shooting percentage would have netted him about 30 goals, and who knows just how many goals he could score with a true top six centre. If Toronto’s front office believes that they have a good chance of extending him at a fair price, the 26-year old winger could be a terrific addition to the team’s young core.

Skinner is also among the game’s best puck thiefs:

Road Takeaway Per Minute Leaders of the Past Five Seasons (Min 1000 TOI)

Player Road TWY/60 P1/60
Player Road TWY/60 P1/60
MARK.STONE 3.39 1.4
MITCH.MARNER 2.92 1.43
DYLAN.LARKIN 2.61 1.25
JAMIE.BENN 2.51 1.56
RYAN.GETZLAF 2.46 1.86
RYAN.O'REILLY 2.46 1.23
JEFF.SKINNER 2.44 1.71
RICK.NASH 2.38 1.62
TAYLOR.HALL 2.37 1.62
MIKE.HOFFMAN 2.35 1.53

While his takeaway numbers are even more impressive at home, Carolina’s scorekeeper tends to give out takeaways much more generously than the average team, so this table focuses solely on road stats. Of the league’s best takeaway specialists, the vast majority of these players are among the game’s best in terms of primary points per 60, as well as shot attempt differential. The Leafs are full of speedy and talented forwards who can steal the puck back and generate extra offensive zone time, and adding Skinner would add another elite puck thief to the roster.

A Glimpse of Skinner in Action

Skinner’s lateral quickness provides him with plenty of scoring opportunities, and his accurate wrist shot allows him to make the most of his chances:

His unique footwork seems to confuse opposing goaltenders, and he’s one of the best forwards in the game at scoring off of his backhand:

Skinner is a talented stick-handler and scorer in tight spaces. Here, he drives the puck down low into the offensive zone, then roofs the puck from in-tight:

His footwork, as well as his ability to score off of his backhand, is on full display here. He is practically skating backwards when he releases this shot:

This is an old clip, but Skinner shows off his ability to go forehand-to-backhand quickly, before roofing the puck into the top right corner:

He shows off his edge-work, creativity, strength, and scoring ability in the GIF below. While this is a rather old clip, it’s not like his edge-work will decline heavily with age:

While he’s only 5’11”, Skinner uses his strong lower half to battle his way past Victor Hedman here:

Finally, his ability to score off of his backhand can give opposing goaltenders nightmares:

Final Thoughts

Skinner has proven to be one of the best 5 on 5 scorers in the league, and also one of the game’s best puck thieves. His footwork helps him to provide extra value by drawing penalties, and he’s put up terrific results without playing with first line calibre linemates. He just turned 26, and the Leafs could offer him a multi year extension that allows him to play on both a contender and his hometown team.

The Hurricanes typically own one of the bottom 10 powerplays in the league, yet Skinner has scored 89 goals over the past three years, or roughly 30 per year. If Skinner were to play with a centre such as Auston Matthews or Nazem Kadri, rather than Derek Ryan, his scoring production is probably even better. In addition, if the Leafs can continue to boast one of the league’s best powerplays, Skinner could benefit even further.

Surrendering a first round pick would be a tough pill to swallow, and prospects such as Timothy Liljegren, Travis Dermott, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson would likely be off the table. Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks could be of great interest to the Hurricanes, and Carl Grundstrom could help them to play a tougher style. In terms of surrendering a first round pick, my current targets for the Leafs at #25 include players such as Jonatan Berggren, Ryan Merkley, and Rasmus Kupari, but there’s no guarantee that anyone in my top 20 will be on the board, and it’s not like I get to make the selection.

The big question is: What would it take to sign Skinner to an extension? Coming off of a low shooting percentage and a 49 point season, he might be a bit of a bargain. If you don’t extend him, and he spends the year with Kadri and Marner (or Matthews and Nylander), his price likely goes up. I’m typically not a fan of spending a first round pick on a one year rental, but signing him to a reasonable extension would be a game-changer for me. The Leafs can offer him a solid chance to win a Stanley Cup in the next seven or eight years, and for his hometown team. The Penguins did not lack high-end scorers when they acquired Phil Kessel, and this is not Toronto’s current weakness either, but it is tough to turn down an opportunity to acquire a player who is talented enough to be a serious difference maker.