Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato has talked much about improving the practice habits of his team, and certain players like Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson. So far in the early stages of training camp, Granato has liked what he’s seen early from both players.
“With [Thompson], and Jeff Skinner, their practice habits needed to improve," Granato said following Sunday's Blue and Gold scrimmage.
“[Skinner's] practice habits have changed completely," Granato elaborated on Wednesday. "You can see him targeting things that he wants to get done in a game.”
Skinner didn’t want to get too far down that rabbit hole while speaking with the media on Wednesday.
“I think you always try to evolve, and you always try to get better," Skinner said. "Obviously the practices are different as a whole, so everyone is going to be in a different mindset. ... Training camp is a time to try to implement things that you may have been working at during the summer.”
We all knew there would be a lot of changes this past offseason, and Skinner lost teammates like Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe, Linus Ullmark, Rasmus Ristolainen, and likely Jack Eichel. The 29-year-old has been around the NHL long enough to know you just go with it.
“That’s the business, really. [When] you end up where we ended up, it’s not a surprise,” Skinner admitted.
With that being said, Skinner’s getting his first look at kids like J-J Peterka, Linus Weissbach and Jack Quinn. He looks forward to seeing more of them in the coming weeks.
“It’s exciting to see some of the young talent that’s here, and the young guys that come in now are so well prepared," Skinner said. "So skilled, so hungry and ready to make the jump.”
Many people think the Sabres will, once again, be the worst team in the National Hockey League this upcoming season. Skinner said he doesn’t really think about expectations.
“It’s not for me to put a specific number on that," he said. "For me and most of us, it should be now just staying in the moment and try to get ready for the season.”
Skinner has scored 30 or more goals four times in his NHL career, and reached the 40-goal once in his first season with the Sabres. In his last 137 games with Buffalo, Skinner has just 25 goals. Last year, he had seven in 53 games.
I asked Skinner if he still thinks he can be a 30-goal scorer at the age of 29. He believes that he's still got plenty of game left in the tank.
“I still feel I’m an impact player, and how that’s impacting the game is going to change on a night to night basis. But that’s what I expect from myself, and I think that’s what’s expected of me here,” Skinner said.
Before the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft this past July, Skinner was asked to waive the no-trade clause in his contract so Buffalo could protect one more forward. He agreed to it, and it was a simple decision, in his mind.
"It was what was going to help the team at the time, and I think they felt that it was the best thing to do. There wasn’t much to it,” Skinner said.
Skinner’s average ice-time last season was 14:31, which was eighth amongst the forwards. He’s been feeling some trust from Granato this time around, and the winger said it makes a difference.
“It gives you confidence when the coach puts trust in you and believes in you," Skinner said. "But at the same time, you’ve got to earn that. You’ve got to work for it.”
Skinner is slated to play his first preseason game on Thursday in Detroit against the Red Wings.
At Wednesday's practice, he was skating on the left wing with Casey Mittelstadt at center and Victor Olofsson on the right wing.
Here is a look at Wednesday's lines:
Skinner – Mittelstadt – Olofsson
Warren – Eakin – Okposo
Caggiula – Asplund – Thompson
Pekar- Malone – Franco
Dahlin – Jokiharju
Hägg – Miller
Teves – Pysyk
Cairns – Boka
Peterka – Cozens – Hayden
Murray – Ruotsalainen – Quinn
Bjork – Girgensons – Hinostroza
Mersch – MacInnis – Weissbach
Butcher – Prow (Schuldt, his first practice)
Bryson – Laaksonen
Davidson – Fitzgerald
Tischke – Eliot
***Photo: Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)