By Ben Kuzma September 19, 2016
A winded Jack Skille was the last player off the ice Monday at the University of B.C. after doing a series of punishing post-practice starts and stops, which made a good first impression.
And once he caught his breath, the right winger had a lot to say.
Lumped into a professional forward tryout triumvirate with James Sheppard, 28, and Tuomo Ruutu, 33, the 29-year-old Skille knows well-travelled grinder Adam Cracknell, 30, beat long odds to win a Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-line roster spot last fall after signing a one-year, two-way contract three weeks before camp.
Skille intends to do the same, not that it’s going to be easy.
“I’m willing to chew through rope to be here,” said Skille. “If I prove I’m on a mission and ready to go, I think I should turn some heads. When you look back as a young guy, you always have time and if you don’t make the playoffs, there’s always next year. That’s not the case. I’ve seen how hard it is.
“I want to win. It’s getting late in my career and I want to ride this bus as long as possible.”
Say what you want about PTO hopefuls — they’re either here to push the camp pace with six veterans at the World Cup or make sure the NHL club meets the mandate of icing eight veterans in the pre-season — Skille has beat those odds.
A year ago in Colorado, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Madison, Wis., native, who was selected seventh overall by Chicago in the 2005 draft, impressed the Avalanche on a PTO and landed a one-year, two-way contract. However, a February concussion not only slowed his effectiveness after scoring seven of his eight goals at that point, missing the playoffs and changing coaches also meant older players on expiring contracts were going to be expendable.
With a chip on his shoulder, motivation is high to extend his checkered career after stops in Chicago, Florida, Columbus and Colorado, and collecting 75 points (38-37) in 343 regular-season games.
“It’s a lot harder to get jobs and part of it is young guys being better these days and maybe it’s the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and being harder to fit guys in,” added Skille. “On a PTO, you don’t have the luxury of getting into the swing of things. It’s taken a long time to simplify everything in my game to make sure I’m on the right side of the puck, making smart plays and realizing through good defence there will be offence.
“And it took some maturity to get to this point. I’m more north-south and try not to give up much and still have some creativity.”
Skille applauds the league’s appointment of four concussion spotters watching all games from New York and Toronto. They have the authority to remove players if they show concussion-like symptoms. Last season, team-affiliated concussions spotters in arenas could recommend but not require players removed with observed symptoms.
“You want to play, but if there’s a problem and they’re seeing it, they’re helping you out,” said Skille. “I’m all for rules in place to help the players.”