That we get to recount Jack Skille’s season as a Vancouver Canuck in and of itself is a story. A journeyman of ten seasons, Skille’s NHL career seemed to be nearing its end when September came, and the 29-year-old veteran hadn’t a contract to his credit.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) September 19, 2016
Desperate to add depth and internal competition ahead of training camp, the Canucks offered Skille a professional tryout. Skille was one of four players to sign a PTO at summer’s end, joining James Sheppard, Tuomo Ruutu and Kevin Carr (who?).
It wasn’t just those players that Skille had to beat out for an NHL contract and a spot on the Canucks’ opening night roster. Signing a contract for the 2016-17 season meant forcing the Canucks into making an uncomfortable decision with a waiver eligible player.
By showing a willingness to go to the toughest areas of the ice and cause trouble, Skille’s strong pre-season commanded the organization’s attention and resulted in a one-year one-way contract above the veteran minimum. To accommodate Skille, the club had to expose Emerson Etem to waivers and wound up losing the younger forward to the Anaheim Ducks.
One can quibble with the Canucks going above the bare minimum to keep Skille in tow — and I certainly have — but if the idea is that hard work and good play can earn the organization’s trust and perhaps a bit of coin to boot, maybe there’s something to the precedent the Canucks set here.
And it’s not like the Canucks didn’t get their money’s worth. One could certainly do worse than the nine points the Canucks got out of Skille’s contract in 55 games.
With Skille, as with most fourth liners or thirteenth forwards, it’s about leaving the ice without costing one’s team more often than not. In that sense, Skille was found money for the Canucks this season.
As the elder statesman on a Canucks’ fourth line that featured Michael Chaput and Brendan Gaunce, Skille finished the season as the Canucks’ sixth best player at controlling even-strength shot attempt ratio and fifth best at impacting his teammates’ ability to control favourable shot attempt ratios.
Of course, one would prefer if Skille had a more profound impact on the Canucks’ driving scoring chances and getting shots from in tight. If that were the case, perhaps that fourth line that did such a good job of pinning the opposition in their zone game after game would do a better job of turning that offensive zone time into chances.
Toothless as the Canucks attack was with Skille, though, it’s worth adding that they still controlled 50% of goals at even strength when he was on the ice. Only five Canucks skaters with ten or more games to their credit this season can boast as much.
If the job of a fourth line is playing the opposition to a tie, it’s fair to suggest Skille did an apt job of doing his part.
Unfortunately for the Canucks’ fourth line, the season’s home stretch was enough to pick it apart player-by-player. Not long after a separated shoulder forced Gaunce from the Canucks’ lineup, Skille joined his pivot in the infirmary with an ankle injury of his own, suffered in a March 25th game in Minnesota.
Skille beat out 2 other guys on PTOs + others in system to earn contract, played 4th line minutes. Very few issues with his season
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) March 25, 2017
That’s where Skille’s season, and likely his time as a Canuck, came to an end. And such an ugly, unfortunate end at that.
We’ll always have Skille’s penchant for the odd end-to-end rush goal to remind us why he was once a top ten pick in the NHL Entry Draft. That has to count for something. I just have my doubts it counts enough for a second tour in Vancouver.
All the best, Skille, wherever your hockey career takes you.