Back in 2003, Kitchener Rangers coach Steve Spott was taking calls regarding one of his top-line forwards, and most of them revolved around his skating ability.
Fast-forward to today, and Spott again is receiving questions about the skating ability of one of his top-line forwards. And just like Richards answered all of his critics, Spott is confident Jeff Skinner will do the same.
"Jeff is going to make 29 other organizations feel like they made a mistake," Spott told NHL.com.
Skinner finished second in the OHL with 50 goals and seventh with 90 points, and followed with a remarkable 20 goals in 20 playoff games as Kitchener advanced to the league semifinals. He also finished second to Windsor's Taylor Hall with 33 points in the postseason.
Skinner doesn't have Richards' physical toughness, but then again, Richards never got close to 50 goals during his OHL career. Spott, who was an assistant coach during Richards' junior career, said there are similarities.
"Their mental toughness is the same, their ability to make guys better," Spott said. "They both have some differences, but I think their body type, their skating stride, their ability to make guys better, that's where I would compare them."
A 5-foot-10, 187-pound right wing, Skinner is No. 34 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the June draft. He also had a goal and an assist to earn player of the game honor for Team Orr at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and earned an invitation to the NHL Scouting Combine, May 24-29 in Toronto -- just a half-hour south of his Markham, Ont., home.
"His puck handling ability and scoring touch -- he sees the ice very well," Chris Edwards, Central Scouting's chief OHL scout, told NHL.com. "Everything about his offensive game is very good."
Edwards, though, said there were a few things Skinner needed to clean up in his game, but otherwise believes he's a solid NHL prospect.
"I think he'll have to work on his defensive side a little more," he said. "Obviously his skating and his first step he needs to continue to work on, speed, and all that."
When Skinner first put on skates, though, speed wasn't really an issue for him. The fifth of six children, Skinner naturally followed his older siblings onto the ice. But hockey wasn't where he started.
"I started figure skating at 5 or 6 years old," Skinner told NHL.com. "Most of my sisters did it, all of them did. I competed at the highest level. I ended up making it to junior nationals and coming in third place. That was a great achievement. It's probably benefited my hockey with the way I could use my edges on the ice."
He began the 2009-10 season showcasing those edges at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, when he led the team with 6 goals in four games en route to winning the gold medal. He used that to launch a season that saw him nearly double his goal total from last season, his first in the OHL.
"Just to have that experience and win the gold was a tremendous experience," Skinner said. "After you've been playing for 20 days or so, all the rest of he players hadn't been playing, so I think that little warm-up before the season might have been a little bit beneficial for me."
He had 5 goals in his first three games and 13 in his first 15 to propel him to the top of the leaderboard.
"It's definitely cool when your teammates are telling you that, chirping you a little bit about it," Skinner said of leading the league in goals. "You just want to try to keep rolling. Everyone's gunning for the guy on top. As long as I'm helping my team win, that's the most important thing."
He did just that, helping the Rangers advance to the Western Conference Finals one season after Kitchener missed the playoffs.
His family got to follow along with his hockey adventures, much like he followed his siblings' play, including older twin sisters Jennifer and Andrea, who played at Harvard and Cornell, respectively. Skinner also has another older sister who plays hockey, as well as an older brother and a younger sister that play.
"It just sort of came with the family," said Jeff. "Lot of hours spent in the basement playing floor hockey. My dad built a rink a couple years for the winter. Lots of time spent watching my siblings play hockey in different minor hockey arenas."
Now they'll all get to watch Jeff make the next step in his hockey quest when the League convenes for the draft at Staples Center, June 25-26.
"Whoever gets him is going to get a guy who is going to represent their organization on and off the ice," said Spott.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com