LAS VEGAS -- For a guy who turned 19 just last month, Jeff Skinner acted his age Wednesday night for perhaps the first time this season.
"You think about what you want to say if you win," Skinner was telling the assembled media backstage Wednesday after winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's outstanding rookie in 2010-11. "It was overwhelming ... Then I got a little nervous (during his acceptance speech), the audience was laughing when I was making a joke ... and I thought maybe I should have practiced my speech a little bit more."
No matter, Skinner softened the Pearl Theater crowd with his smile, having already won over thousands of teenage girls who voted on Seventeen.com for which of three John Varvatos designer suits he should wear at the NHL Awards. Scoring 31 goals and leading all rookies with 63 points boosted Skinner's profile, along with being the only first-year draftee among the three finalists -- San Jose's Logan Couture and the New York Islanders' Michael Grabner were the others.
Skinner made a point to credit his veteran teammates on the Carolina Hurricanes during his speech and media availability both for their guidance and their acceptance of a first-year pro on the final roster. Skinner played top-six forward minutes pretty much from the first game of his first NHL season. Not bad for a guy who said "I was just trying to make the team" -- words, by the way, that 20-year pro Nicklas Lidstrom used later in the night when talking to media about whether during his early career days he ever dreamed of winning seven Norris Trophies as the League's outstanding defensemen.
"The guys helped me so much to step up to their level," Skinner said of his Carolina teammates. "I learned it was important not to overthink what I was doing on the ice."
Skinner said he anticipated that the size and speed of the NHL game was going to be a challenge even after playing so well at the top junior level in Canada. Off the ice is where he learned the most, he said.
"As kids, you don't realize all of the travel that is involved during a long season," said Skinner. "You turn on the TV at 7 o'clock on a Saturday night and two teams are playing. You don't realize one of the two teams may have traveled a long way in short time to be there."
Skinner's youth likely swayed some voters who reasoned that Grabner was five years older and Couture was three years older with some 25 NHL games of experience prior to this season. His youthful charm certainly caught the attention of female fans under 21, especially during a breakout weekend as a member of the NHL All-Star Team Staal squad this past February in Raleigh.
If possible, Skinner's smile was even wider backstage, making fun of his own acceptance speech, which wasn't nearly as long or awkward as Skinner thought. The 19-year-old was stellar thanking his siblings and parents, plus his junior teammates and coaches. His demeanor turned veteran-level serious once he started discussing Carolina's prospects for next season.
"I have a ton to improve on," Skinner said. "I plan to get stronger and faster for next season. I want to help our team get better."
Spoken more like a seasoned pro rather than a teen sensation.