The campaign to vote Jeff Skinner into the NHL All-Star Game is underway.
One Buffalo, a marketing initiative of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, tweeted a picture of a sign that reads, "Jeff Skinner for Mayor of Buffalo," along with a link that directs people to the league's "Last Men In" ballot. Following the Buffalo Sabres' morning skate Thursday, coach Phil Housley asked everyone to cast a vote for Skinner.
That is likely going to be Skinner's only way to earn an invitation. He was not among 10 players selected to represent the Atlantic Division at All-Star festivities, despite entering Thursday's games tied for second in the NHL with 26 goals. In past years, he would be declared arguably the game's biggest snub, and the conversation would end there.
Now, Skinner has one more chance to join Jack Eichel in San Jose for the game, which will be held Saturday, Jan. 26. While many fans expressed anger over Skinner's initial exclusion, it appears the 26-year-old winger has already moved on.
"There's a lot of great players in the league and you've got to fit a lot of great players in not a lot of spots," he said Thursday morning in KeyBank Center. "That's the way it goes. It is what it is but it's not my focus. It's news for yesterday. Today is a new day with a challenge ahead of us."
Skinner was a victim of circumstance. Each team must be represented at All-Star weekend, and the Atlantic Division is filled with talented forwards. Also on the Atlantic team are forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), John Tavares (Toronto) and David Pastrnak (Boston).
Entering Thursday, Kucherov led the league with 65 points; Stamkos had 22 goals in 40 games; Tavares had 26 goals to tie Skinner; and Pastrnak's 24 goals trailed only Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Tavares and Skinner.
The NHL added intrigue to the All-Star format Wednesday when it unexpectedly announced the "Last Men In" vote, which allows one additional player from each division to be added to the All-Star Game. One player from each team is represented on the additional ballot.
Skinner will have fierce competition in the Atlantic from forwards Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Dylan Larkin (Detroit), Aleksander Barkov (Florida), Mark Stone (Ottawa), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay), and defensemen Morgan Rielly (Toronto) and Shea Weber (Montreal).
Naturally, Housley campaigned for Skinner, who has been remarkable during his first season in Buffalo.
"Jeff Skinner has obviously been a big, big contributor for us and put us in this position," Housley said. "We'd like to see him be on the team for his contributions to the 40-game mark. It's good to see that he still has an opportunity with the voting, so everybody please get out there and vote for Jeff Skinner."
Skinner was acquired from Carolina in August for prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks. Skinner already had more goals in 41 games this season for the Sabres than he did in 82 games during his final year with the Hurricanes.
Skinner is on a historic pace this season in Buffalo. Entering Thursday, he was on pace for 53 goals, which would be the third-most ever for a Sabres player, trailing only Alexander Mogilny (76 in 1992-93) and Danny Gare (56 in 1979-80).
Finland goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and defenseman Oskari Laaksonen, two Sabres prospects, reached the World Junior Championship semifinals with a 2-1 overtime victory over Canada on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Luukkonen, a second-round draft pick in 2017, made 25 saves, including one on a penalty shot against Canada's Maxime Comtois in overtime.
— Hockey Daily (@HockeyDaily365) January 3, 2019
Luukkonen has a .932 save percentage in four tournament games, building off a remarkable first season with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League. The 19-year-old ranked second in the OHL in save percentage before joining Finland for the tournament.
Laaksonen, a 19-year-old and former third-round draft pick, has one goal and a plus-3 rating in four games. Finland will face Switzerland in the semifinals Friday at 9 p.m. EST.
Meanwhile, Mattias Samuelsson, a second-round draft pick of the Sabres in June, and the United States will face Russia in the semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern. The 18-year-old defenseman does not have a point in five tournament games. Both semifinal games will be broadcast on NHL Network.
Czech Republic center Matej Pekar, a fourth-round pick of the Sabres in June, was eliminated from the tournament with a 3-1 loss to the United States on Wednesday night. He had zero points in five games and will return to Barrie of the OHL.
Saturday marks the five-year anniversary of Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen's game-winning goal for Finland to beat Sweden, 3-2, in the 2014 World Junior Championship gold-medal game.
Ristolainen, now 24, was an alternate captain for Finland in the tournament that year and scored three goals in five games. He split that season between Buffalo and Rochester, appearing in five playoff games for the Amerks.
"It's still a great memory," Ristolainen said Thursday of the golden goal. "It's the only thing I've won. It was a great two weeks. It will last forever."
Defensemen Zach Redmond and Lawrence Pilut were selected to represent Rochester on the North Division roster of the AHL All-Star Classic, which will be held Jan. 28 in Springfield, Mass.
Pilut, who is currently with the Sabres, had three goals among 22 points with a plus-19 rating in 16 games for the Amerks. Redmond, 30, has a team-high 15 goals this season, including seven on the power play and ranks second among all active AHL defensemen with 28 points.