'Canes' Skinner returns after 16-game absence

'Canes' Skinner returns after 16-game absence

Published Jan. 16, 2012 11:40 a.m. ET

For 16 games, Jeff Skinner sat and waited for the Carolina Hurricanes’ doctors to clear him to play.

Skinner, a 19-year-old All-Star phenom who registered 63 points as a rookie last season, left the Canes’ lineup after sustaining a concussion in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 7.

As Skinner waited for medical clearance, the young and ever-changing Hurricanes have grown more accustomed to new coach Kirk Muller, who was hired on Nov. 28. Skinner, who has been there at practices, was simply waiting for his opportunity to get back onto the ice with his guys. On Sunday, that day finally came.

In the Hurricanes' 2-1 loss at the Washington, Skinner saw action on 21 shifts for a total of 17 minutes, 23 seconds of ice action. He had a shot on goal, but most important is that Skinner was on the ice.

“I felt good. It was exciting to get out there for the first time in a while,” Skinner told 'NHL Tonight' on the NHL Network. “. . . Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but I thought physically I responded well to the physical contact I had.”

Any hesitation after being out with something like a concussion?

“I think I was just excited to get back out there," he said. "I think, I don’t know if it’s nerves, but I think maybe the only thing that happened was you start thinking too much, and if you do that you can get into trouble. So, after the first couple of shifts, after the first period, especially, I sort of settled down and I was a lot more comfortable out there,”

Even with is time off, Skinner is second on the team with 12 goals and third with 24 points.

During his time out, the Canes have made several changes. They went to a younger lineup, and speculation is rampant the team will trade some of its more valuable veterans. As of now, Carolina is 11 points out of the final playoff spot. Considering there are four teams between the Hurricanes and No. 8 Pittsburgh, it’s unlikely the team will be able to make up the necessary ground to make a push for the playoffs.

But getting Skinner back still has to be a boon for the organization. With veteran all-star Eric Staal (11 goals, 34 points) struggling, Skinner can help the Hurricanes build a bridge toward next season under Muller’s direction. Muller signed a three-year contract in November.