BUFFALO, N.Y. — After two down seasons riddled with injuries, Jeff Skinner felt two realities closing in on him this year: the pressure to perform, and his age compared to those around him in the Sabres locker room.
"For everyone to try and kind of have the best year they can but yeah, when you think of the sort of overall dynamic, having to be in my eyes, I need to be an impact player and have a positive impact on the team," Skinner admitted at locker room cleanout.
Skinner is the fifth oldest player on the Sabres active roster as of Feb. 1 and third oldest skater on the team. He's growing more comfortable with that seniority.
"You can think of sort of how older guys have helped you in the past and that's what I try to do," Skinner said. "There's a lot of older guys in my career that had a positive impact on me, and then you try to do the same things for young guys in terms of when you become the older guy. So that's kind of my mindset there."
On the top line, Skinner reached his career-high 63 points this season for the fourth time in his career, and second time in Buffalo — the first since he arrived in 2018.
"Skinny, he's been just awesome this year. He's been a leader for us," Kyle Okposo, the oldest skater on the team said. "After games, he'll go in the room, he'll go in the weight room, and he's the last guy in there most nights. And he works so hard on his game, on his craft. Loves the game, loves hockey, and to see what he did this year after last season, guys couldn't have been happier for him. But that's not an accident, because he wants it. He works. He's a great example for the younger guys in the stance of work ethic for sure."
"It's exciting," linemate Tage Thompson said, who found fresh legs returning to center next to Skinner from previous season on the wing. "I think we feed off each other pretty well. I love learning from him, too. He's an unbelievable player. He's been in the league a long time. He's scored a lot of goals. I think he's a big reason why I've had the success I've had. He thinks the game incredibly well and just watching him in practice and in games, learning from him, I think has been very beneficial for me."
Even if he finds the net more frequently, Skinner's teammates will always cherish his chirps the most.
"They always get me going," Thompson said. "They're pretty funny, I don't know — that goes to the passion, the intensity that he has. He loves competing and sometimes that's how he shows it. Usually gets me fired up."