It was the best of times (head coach Don Granato), it was the worst of times (head coach Ralph Krueger). It’s a Tale of Two Jeff Skinners - like a day-and-night comparison between the two iterations of the Buffalo Sabres forward under his current coach, as opposed to the former coach.
Skinner is an incredibly skilled hockey player, but his abilities were stifled and opportunities limited while Krueger led the Sabres. Although Buffalo overall continues to struggle through the “rebuild,” the coaching change to Granato has made a huge difference in Skinner’s growth and in helping him return to the player he once was.
Say what you will about Phil Housley, but Skinner had a solid season under him in his first year in Buffalo, the 2018-19 season. He became a 40-goal scorer for the first time in his career, and his 63 points matched his career-high, a mark hit in his rookie season with Carolina back in 2010-11.
Everything changed when Housley was ousted and Krueger brought in.
From Krueger’s first time behind the Buffalo bench to his last, Skinner appeared in 84 games over a season and a half. He scored just 16 goals and recorded only 10 assists, for a measly 26 points. He averaged just 5.85% on his shots on goal, and his average ice time went down, too.
Obviously the coaching change isn’t the only factor at play here, with rotating lines and players coming in and out, too. But when you compare the numbers, it’s hard not to see how Skinner struggled under Krueger - particularly when you look at how he’s found success under Granato so far. He was misused under Krueger, and it’s never been more evident.
The second half of last season for Skinner was a significant improvement. After accruing just three points in the first 25 games (under Krueger), he would add 11 points in 28 games under Granato. His shooting percentage more than doubled, and his ice time went up by about 90 seconds average per game.
And now - this season.
The Sabres have only played 14 games, but it’s already easily better for Skinner. He has five goals and four assists for nine points, just three shy of his total in 53 games last season. He’s averaging just shy of 17 minutes per game, shooting more often and scoring more, and it’s a visible difference. He’s currently tied for second on the team in scoring, just one point back of Rasmus Asplund, and leads the team in goals.
Skinner is almost certainly going to break all of his totals from last season, and just from watching him on the ice, he seems to have a renewed energy. His happy-go-lucky personality shines both on and off the ice; it’s almost like he’s been able to start rediscovering why he loves playing hockey, whereas under Krueger he might’ve forgotten.
Jeff Skinner, why did you pick "Party in the USA" as your goal song?— Julianne Pelusi (@JuliannePelusi) October 20, 2021
GOOD VIBES. pic.twitter.com/Kno29DTURI
It’s refreshing to see. While the Sabres may not be a contender this year, it’s genuinely nice to watch Jeff Skinner play hockey and appear to enjoy doing so, and it’s fun to see what he can do under Granato’s leadership and with the space he’s being allowed by this coaching regime.
Good vibes indeed, Jeff.