Jeff Skinner sure didn’t look like a nervous, 18-year-old kid when he strode to the podium with General Manager Jim Rutherford. And he sure didn’t sound like one fielding questions only hours before his first professional game. But that’s one of many reasons they’re paying him the big bucks.

The Carolina Hurricanes signed the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to a three-year entry-level deal on Tuesday. The two-way deal will pay him $810,000 if he sticks with the NHL Hurricanes and $67,500 if he returns to a minor league team such as the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, where Skinner finished second in goal scoring last season.

At this point, “when” might be a better word to use than “if.” Skinner promises to be part of a powerful, young nucleus up the middle with fellow centers Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter. All signs point to his starting the season in Raleigh. Rutherford, explaining why he had scheduled the signing now rather than later in the preseason, noted that he wanted to get the deal done in order to avoid any visa problems in Russia, as the Hurricanes play their first two regular season games in Helsinki, Finland.

In any case, Skinner already seems to have the public speaking responsibilities of professional hockey down pat, easily (and blandly) answering reporter’s questions as if reenacting that scene in Bull Durham in which Kevin Costner imparts the golden platitudes to Tim Robbins:

On whether or not he feels he can make the NHL roster this season: “I really can’t focus on that. All I can do is play hockey.”

On what kind of mentoring former Canes Rob Brind’Amour and Ron Francis are offering: “You just try to soak up everything you can.”

The teenager really only showed himself for one moment. Asked what the first thing he’d buy his parents with the money from his new contract, Skinner smiled, looked down at his hands, and quipped, “I don’t know. A late breakfast?”