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Sabres' Skinner wins Last Men In vote, will head to NHL All-Star Game

RALEIGH, N.C. – It's a big homecoming tonight for Buffalo Sabres winger Jeff Skinner and he will play against the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time on the heels of becoming an All-Star.

Skinner has won the Atlantic Division's Last Men In vote, the NHL announced at noon, and will join Jack Eichel in the All-Star Game Jan. 26 in San Jose. Also chosen were Pittsburgh's Kris Letang (Metropolitan Division), Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog (Central) and Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl (Pacific). The league has not released voting results but said more than 11.5 million votes were cast in the weeklong balloting.

The Sabres will thus have multiple representatives at the All-Star Game for the first time since Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller and Brian Campbell suited up for the Eastern Conference in Dallas in 2007. Lindy Ruff was the East's coach in that game. It will be Skinner's second appearance in the game. His first was in 2011, when it was hosted by the Hurricanes.

Before the voting results were announced, Skinner took part in the Sabres' morning skate in PNC Arena and then met a large group of Carolina reporters welcoming him back for the first time since the Aug. 2 trade to Buffalo.

Skinner was speaking at a backdrop in a hallway near the Buffalo dressing room and the tunnel where the Sabres leave the ice. Several of his Sabres teammates had a good chuckle as they walked by the gathering, with Zach Bogosian breaking up the group by uttering a high-pitched "Welcome home, Jeffrey" as he walked by.

"It's a little different, exciting but it's a big game for us too," Skinner said of returning to the building where he played his first eight NHL seasons. "There's a lot of stuff that goes through your head when you look back on my whole time here. I have nothing but great memories here and good friendships.

"I'm excited to see a lot of guys. The fans treated me exceptionally well and I had a great time playing here. A lot of positive feelings but it will be a little weird, a little different on the visitors side."

Skinner is heading into unrestricted free agency and contract talks are expected to open soon between Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill and Skinner's representatives from Newport Sports. With Skinner on a 55-goal pace, it's reasonable to think he's looking at a contract north of $8 million per season on a long-term extension.

Skinner has 29 goals, tied for second in the NHL with Toronto's John Tavares and three behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin. His 55-goal pace would leave him with the most by a Sabre since Alexander Mogilny's 76-goal season in 1992-93.

"It's tough to foresee something that. A lot of things have to go right," Skinner said. "You have to have an opportunity. Your team has to be playing well, your line has to be playing well. Fortunately for me I've been on the right end of some plays."

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Skinner said he's texted with some of his ex-teammates. The Sabres were in town last night but no meeting was possible because the Hurricanes were playing in Tampa, where they suffered a 3-1 loss.

"There's been some texts back and forth, originally to see if they were around," Skinner said. "After that, I guess I'll see them tonight. I'll see them in the corners."

Sabres' Jeff Skinner expects emotional day with return to Carolina

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