RALEIGH, N.C. — Jeff Skinner thanks you.
The Buffalo Sabres' winger has had a sensational season but he knows his second trip to the NHL All-Star Game is rooted in the desire of fans to see him in the game, as they made him the winner of the Atlantic Division slot in the league's "Last Men In" vote.
Speaking with The Buffalo News, WGR Radio and Sabres.com late Friday afternoon about 2 1/2 hours before faceoff in PNC Arena, a smiling Skinner said he understood what the second All-Star berth of his career means.
"Obviously getting in a little bit of a different way, it's pretty cool to share it with the fans and my teammates," Skinner said. "You're not going to have a good season unless your teammates are playing well. That's the cool part. … My family was thinking about it more than me. It just shows the passion and how much the fans love the Sabres. It's a pretty cool feeling."
Skinner said he's quickly learned about Buffalo as a hockey market during his 4 1/2 months in the city.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 11, 2019
"When you're a visiting team member, you get a snapshot," he said. "Once you get into a city, become part of a community and are walking around every day seeing how much they love sports there, how much they love the Sabres, how much they love the Bills, it's definitely something I didn't really grasp fully until I moved to Buffalo. It's pretty special to be part of that."
Skinner said it will be an added bonus to go to San Jose with teammate and linemate Jack Eichel. Last year, Eichel's 3-on-3 partners were close friend and Toronto star Auston Matthews, and Florida standout Alexander Barkov. What would Skinner say about replacing Barkov in that role?
"I'll see what the coach says," Skinner said of Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper. "Those two guys can have the puck. I'll just try to get open for them."
"He's playing like he did his rookie year in my opinion," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said two hours before faceoff. "He's going to the net, he's around the puck all the time. Obviously he's having a lot of success. Everything is going in for him. That's the kind of player he can be. Obviously we hope we don't see that tonight."
One other Buffalo nugget: Skinner is aware of the "Skinner for Mayor" signs that were tweeted recently from the One Buffalo account run by Pegula Sports and Entertainment. The site created a Jeffskinnerformayor.com URL that directly linked to the NHL's fan voting site.
"That's another thing my family and friends picked up on and showed me," he said. "I'm not sure I'm qualified but it's pretty funny."
— One Buffalo (@One_Buffalo) January 3, 2019