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Skinner hits town, hits ice with new Sabres teammates

This is how Jeff Skinner is going to play every day.

Speed up and down the wing. A whirling dervish with the puck. Hopping around defenders with the dexterity forged by his childhood upbringing as a figure skater.

You could see it all even on a lazy September day as the Buffalo Sabres' prized summer trade acquisition made his debut on the ice with new teammates Wednesday in HarborCenter.

"It was fun. You're getting used to who's with you out there," Skinner said after skating and scrimmaging for more than an hour in an informal session nine days before the start of training camp. "I got into town late last night and I was excited to get a skate in."

Skinner hits town as the owner of 204 NHL goals and 379 points in his eight seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres landed him in a stunner of a deal Aug. 2, giving up only prospect Cliff Pu and draft picks.

Skinner and former Stanley Cup champion Conor Sheary, acquired from Pittsburgh, give the Sabres immediate credibility on the wing that they were sorely lacking last season. It's safe to say Skinner is getting penciled directly in on the left side of Jack Eichel's top line.

"He's a pretty good player," a smiling Skinner said. "I've seen him quite a bit from an opposing team point of view. It's going to be a lot nicer to be on his team. I'm happy he's on our side."

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Skinner is one of several new faces on the Sabres' roster for this season. Many have already arrived, with former St. Louis and Boston forward Vladimir Sobotka joining the group for the first time on Wednesday.

"It's nice from a personal perspective that you're not the only new guy coming in," Skinner said. "There's been a lot of moves and I think guys are excited about the guys that were brought in and the core group that's been in and is continuing to build and improve. I'm excited to be a piece of a puzzle and get the season started."

A Skinner-Carolina divorce was inevitable when it became clear there was not going to be a longterm agreement in the offing when his contract expired after this season.

And while Skinner was the face of the franchise the last eight years, the former Calder Trophy winner never made the playoffs and, in fact, leads the NHL in career games (579) without a playoff appearance. Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian is No. 2 on that list at 552.

New Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour, the captain of the Canes' 2006 Stanley Cup champions, made it clear on Tuesday that it was time for Skinner to move on.

"It sends a message of what kind of Hurricane we're looking for, what kind of player we want," Brind'Amour told reporters at the Canes' fall media day. "Everybody's available. You've got to produce. You've got to do the things we're asking you to do, otherwise you're not safe. So it was the right move.

"I think the guys understand you've got to come ready to play and do what we're asking. Otherwise you're not a Hurricane. We can't have you."

Skinner was diplomatic and took no umbrage at Brind'Amour's comments when they were relayed to him Wednesday.

"There's obviously a number of changes going on in that organization," he said. "I've been there a long time and it just sort of seemed that both sides wanted to go in a different direction. That's sort of how the trade manifested itself.

"That's the way it goes sometimes in this business. As in life, you get two sides on the same team for a long time and sometimes a fresh start is needed for both sides. I'm excited for the fresh start being a Sabre. I'm pumped to get going."

Skinner is a native of Markham, Ont, north of Toronto. He had a good laugh when asked how ready he was to despise the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres' chief rival and the team Buffalo fans love to hate the most.

"I guess I've got to warm up to it even more because I didn't like them very much when I started to play for Carolina," he said. "The family is pretty excited. They're closer to watch that rivalry and to watch some home games for a bit of a change. So that should be fun."

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