From trade requests to dysfunctional board meetings, there hasn’t been that much to get excited about in Lethbridge over the last couple of years. But in the midst of the organization's problems, 16-year-old goaltender Stuart Skinner has given the Hurricanes something to hang their hat on. He has not only given his team a chance to win most of their games, but he has also given them hope for a brighter future.
The Edmonton, Alta., native has looked like a veteran in his rookie season in Lethbridge. He uses his imposing 6-foot-4, 196-pound stature to cut down angles and has a calm, cool and collected demeanor night in and night out. It has been evident in his stats as he averages a .918 save percentage, which sits only behind Tri-City Americans’ Eric Comrie, Seattle Thunderbirds' Taran Kozun and Kelowna Rockets' Jackson Whistle, throughout his first 16 games.
“It was a hard transition coming from midget, but I’ve just been sticking to the way I play and things have been working out,” says Skinner, who turned 16 on Nov. 1. “It also starts in practice and I work hard in practice and it has helped me in games.”
The icing on the cake for Skinner’s impressive start to his junior career is the consistent heavy workload that he faces in the Lethbridge crease. He averages roughly 37 shots a game and has faced less than 30 shots once all year. These stats put into perspective why his 3.31 average is a poor reflection of how he has played.
“I used to face a lot of shots in peewee and first year bantam, but haven’t faced shots like this in a couple of years,” says Skinner, whose best showing came in a 50-save 4-3 win over the Calgary Hitmen on Oct. 1. “I like it because it keeps you in the game and I like to compete in games with a lot of shots.”
Skinner’s hot start to the season combined with his raw talent and impressive minor hockey track record has Hurricanes goalie coach Jeff Battah believing that he’s a special player.
“I believe he can be (the next star goalie in the WHL),” says Battah. “He has the mental makeup of a really good goalie. He battles hard even on the bad days and has the work ethic to go far. Goalies like him don’t come around that often.”
Not to jump the gun as it’s not even half way through the 2014-15 season, but Battah doesn’t seem to be out of line at all regarding Skinner’s future. He’s on pace to outperform the rookie seasons of Comrie, the Edmonton Oil Kings’ Tristan Jarry and even former American and current Montreal Canadiens star Carey Price. Moreover, he’s on pace to do so with a less-talented team in front of him than those goalies had.
“It’s an honour to be talked about with those goalies,” says Skinner. “I look up to those goalies and especially Carey Price. He’s someone that I’ve looked up to as a role model.”
It’s fitting that Skinner looks up to Price as a role model since he has looked like a younger version of him at times this year. Similar to how the Canadiens netminder looked in Tri-City, Skinner uses his frame to make the net look small and has remarkable composure for his age.
“I try to take parts out of Price’s game and apply it to my game and how I play as a goalie,” says the Hurricanes netminder. “I have a certain way of playing, but I learn from him just by watching him. I also have the same goalie coach (personal/offseason goalie coach) Eli Wilson as him. So it’s nice to work with someone who has worked with him."
Of all the people happy for Skinner’s success, Lethbridge GM Brad Robson has to be at the top of the list for more reasons than one. He traded the No. 6 pick in the 2013 bantam draft, which was used to draft highly regarded defender Kale Clague, to the Brandon Wheat Kings for then-overage goalie Corbin Boes and the No. 17 pick, which he used to draft Skinner. Many have been critical of the deal, including this BTN blogger, because Clague is regarded as a future superstar and that was well known going into that draft. But with the way Skinner’s development has been going, Robson just might win that trade.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen