by Justin Skelnik || AHL On The Beat Archive
Three years ago, Chicago Wolves defenseman Brett Skinner got a glimpse of the business side of professional hockey.
He was traded.
The then-second-year pro was dealt at the National Hockey League trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks organization to the Anaheim Ducks. It was something that Skinner suspected could have been on the horizon, but he was still surprised when he got the news.
“Vancouver was going for the playoff push and they had three defensemen hurt, so everyone knew they were going to do something,” Skinner recalled. “We (the Manitoba Moose) were on a flight to Toronto when the deadline passed and when we landed, everyone turned their phones on and whispers started.
“Mike Keane actually was the one who told me I was traded, but I didn’t believe him since he is a big-time prankster, but then I turned on my phone and I had 20 messages so I knew I was true. It just took me by surprise that first time, but after it wears off you just have to go with it.”
The 25-year-old Skinner is now in his fourth professional season and with his fifth NHL organization. He was traded from Anaheim to Boston in the summer of 2007 and would go on to register career highs with seven goals, 40 assists and 47 points and 47 penalty minutes in a career-most 68 matchups with the Providence Bruins.
He then signed with the New York Islanders as a free agent this past off-season. After dishing out eight assists in the first eight games this season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Skinner received a different kind of call.
“Finally getting the call to come up to the NHL was definitely a memorable experience, it is something that I had waited for and for it to happen was unbelievable,” Skinner said. “Going up and getting the opportunity to play in as many games as I did and getting put in the situations I was put in, was great for me personally and for development.
“My parents came down for a weekend and were able to see a few games, which had to be special for them. The whole thing about your first NHL game experience is when you are there, you have to get the first game out of the way, and then just focus on playing solid hockey from then on out.”
The Brandon, Man., native, accrued four penalty minutes in 11 outings with the Islanders but was reassigned to Bridgeport on Nov. 18. Skinner would go on to skate in 16 games with the Sound Tigers, recording four assists and five points.
On Jan. 13, he found himself part of another trade. The Islanders traded him to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for forward Junior Lessard, and Skinner was then assigned to the Chicago Wolves. This time, he just took the news in stride.
“I wasn’t necessarily expecting a trade and I especially didn’t know I was going to end up in the Atlanta organization, but with the amount of defensemen the Islanders had in their system, I think everyone kind of figured they were going to make a move,” Skinner said.
“When I heard I was headed to Chicago, I was really excited to have to opportunity to play for such a great organization, and to come back out west was something I was looking forward to and so far its worked out pretty good.”
Skinner has flourished since arriving in Chicago, amassing 17 assists and 18 points in 18 games, 13 of them (one goal, 12 assists) coming on the power play. He has been held off the scoresheet just four times in a Wolves sweater and has already surpassed the 12 points he notched in 24 games he posted with Bridgeport.
“At the time I got here, the Wolves needed some help offensively on the back end, and the coaches put me right into a situation to be successful,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of skilled players here and I think just coming in and bringing what I can hockey-wise has given me the chance to have success.
“For myself, contributing offensively is how I am going help the team win, so it’s been nice to be able to contribute the way that I have.”
The Wolves will need Skinner to continue to produce points from the back end as the playoff push in the West Division has tightened. Chicago has 21 games reaming, 17 against division rivals. Even though Skinner is new to the club and the tightly contested West Division, he knows what’s at stake down the stretch.
“The West Division and the Western Conference for that matter, is really tight,” said Skinner. “It seems like every night you are playing a team that is either a couple points up on you or a few points behind you. Every game honestly since I have been here has felt like a playoff game.
“From my standpoint, I just have to go out and try to play solid in our own zone, but when I am given the chance to be offensive, I just have to try and contribute any way I can and for myself its setting up a play more than going out and scoring a goal.”
Chicago is coming off its second Calder Cup Championship last season and has only missed the playoffs once since joining the American Hockey League in 2001. Skinner knows what the Wolves must do in order to separate themselves from the pack in the West Division and earn a spot in the postseason.
“As a team, we need to go out and work hard for 60 minutes and we need to take every game like its our last,” Skinner said. “We have a team that should be able to go on a rather good run coming down the stretch and into the postseason.
“We are looking forward to it, and it should be a pretty good ride.”