When the Rangers drafted Hunter Skinner, fans at Rogers Arena asked me who he was. I didn’t know much about him, and he was not a name I expected to hear. But the Rangers seemed confident and a year later, I can say that Skinner has been a an excellent pick so far. So when I thought about who to interview next, I reached out to him and he was happy to be included in this series. So, who is Hunter Skinner?
Accepting the challenge
Growing up in Michigan, Skinner started playing hockey from a young age. Always being told her wasn’t good enough, having to overcome challenges, he worked hard to reach that next level every time. At age 15, he ended up with the Honeybaked program (the same program recent undrafted free agent Patrick Khodorenko played for). He played with the team for a few months before making the transition to the USHL, joining the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
“One of the hardest was at age 16 going into Muskegon, being doubted and always being told I will never have a chance of going anywhere and at a young age its hard to overcome that, but I used that to build up my mental state and maturity“, Skinner elaborated about that experience. He moved away from home to join the Lumberjacks and faced several challenges. Mostly mentally, but Skinner decided to grind through it and wanted to come out on top.
That first season may not have been filled with highlights, but in Skinner’s own words, it was the most important season of his career so far. “That year I honestly thought helped more than others will say because of being in a league with older players make you mature alot faster and make you realize how much hard work needs to be put in“. In his 2nd season, he had a full camp with the Lumberjacks and was told he was on the outside looking in. He used that to push himself even further.
Eventually he was traded to the Lincoln Stars and ended up playing against Zachary Jones twice that season. Both times losing 4-2 to Jones’ Tri-City Storm. Skinner finished the season without making the playoffs, and he did not really expect to be drafted. He traveled to Vancouver anyway, and was pleasantly surprised.
NHL Draft and move to the OHL
With the draft coming up, Skinner had time to think about his future. He had committed to the University of Western Michigan back in 2017, however, he decided to move to the OHL instead in the summer of 2019. “After I was drafted by the Rangers, I started thinking about my options, college or junior hockey. I felt the London Knights were the best option for me to grow, both as a player and a person, under Mark and Dale Hunter“, Skinner explained on his decision to switch.
With the London Knights, Skinner was off to a flying start, offensively as well with 15 points in his first 14 games. Skinner was happy his decision to switch to the OHL worked out well. Being part of a team that won their division and finished with the 2nd best record behind only the Ottawa 67s with 2020 top prospects Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn, Skinner learned a lot. “I had a great year with bunch of great guys, it was overall just a professional organization and i cant wait to get back. I learned a lot from Coach Hunter on trying to be consistent every game and play every game like its your last“.
This upcoming season, Skinner hopes to build on his success and earn an entry level contract. He cannot wait to go back and work with coach Hunter again. The only downside of opting for major juniors over college is that your NHL rights expire after 2 years and you have to re-enter the draft. We have seen it in the past with guys like Adam Mascherin, Tim Brent, Jarret Stoll, Matthew Lombardi and Frederik Andersen who didn’t sign an ELC for various reasons.
The number 83 and Matthew Robertson
Skinner’s experience at the prospect development camp is one he won’t forget easily. Every year the Rangers invite their prospects to their training facility in Westchester to participate in scrimmages and have the coaching staff and upper management interact with the players the organization counts on to be their future. Not all of them will eventually make it, but everyone is treated as a prospect who will.
“Skating with a lot of highly skilled guys was great because it showed me what it takes to get to that level I want to reach eventually”, Skinner continued. 2 players he stays in touch with are Matthew Robertson, who was drafted the same day as Skinner, and Jake Elmer, who joined the Rangers organization as an undrafted free agent last year.
On Family and Future
Skinner’s family was proud when he was drafted, and it was a milestone in his career, overcoming adversity and challenges along the way. One person who is on his mind, is his grandmma. “My family and friends were all happy of course. Unfortunately, my grandma passed away from ovarian cancer and she was always my biggest inspiration. Her favorite number was 13 and mine was 88 so I combined the two and got 83. She is, to this day, a big part of my life and I push myself every day to be the best I can be because of her“.
As he prepares for the new season, Skinner tries to get out of the house a bit and go fishing, his biggest hobby. When he returns to Westchester for his 2nd camp he wants to take that next step, to be a better player than he was last year and show the Rangers that they made the right call selecting him in the draft. It’s a moment that changed his life and reaching that next level will just be another challenge to overcome.
Note: I would like to thank Hunter Skinner for taking the time to sit down with me and put this together. I remember talking to him at the draft and what sticks with me is how incredibly proud he was to wear his Rangers jersey.