As a late birthday, left winger Hunter Shinkaruk has been on the draft radar a little longer than his peers, particularly since he was so good so early for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western League.
It all started with an impressive rookie campaign that saw him net 42 points in 63 games. Then he exploded for 91 in his full sophomore season. True, he had the benefit of playing with the older and ultra-talented Emerson Etem, an Anaheim first-rounder (2010, 29th overall) who scored 61 goals last season, but Shinkaruk was no slouch himself.
Now that Etem is playing in the pros, Shinkaruk is making hay with a new group of friends – the undersized but smart Curtis Valk and former Kootenay Ice product Elgin Pearce. The result has been top-five WHL scoring slots for Shinkaruk and Valk and kudos for the third musketeer. “When they brought in Pearce, that line came together,” said one scout. “They had instant chemistry.”
Shinkaruk got off to a slow start by his lofty standards before catching fire in late October and has now amassed 33 points in 22 games this season. He is fully aware Etem’s graduation has passed the target onto his own chest. “I was getting hit after whistles more than before whistles,” he said. “But that’s what I want, to have that spotlight and to be the best player I can be.”
To do that, the Calgary native knows he must tighten up defensively and talent assessors agree with that mission. “He has a lot to learn, as all young kids do,” said the scout. “Hunter was always so gifted growing up that he was allowed to get away with some things defensively. Now he needs to learn to play a team game.”
Fortunately, Shinkaruk has his sights set on a pretty good role model from the NHL, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. “Obviously he’s the best player in the world, but I try to take parts of his game,” he said. “He competes every shift, but I also like how he handles himself off the ice. He’s a leader, he’s humble and he’s somebody you want to be around.”
When Shinkaruk’s on the ice, he’s a pretty popular cat, too. Anchoring that top line, the 18-year-old is a phantom the way he moves up the ice with such ease. That speed is his calling card and even though he’s listed as a mid-sized player at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, scouts aren’t worried about him handling the rigors of pro hockey.
“He’s not that small anymore,” said one evaluator. “Look at Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner; they had elements that brought them success. Hunter’s element is his speed. He’s a highly skilled kid and a very explosive skater.”
Internationally, Shinkaruk made a name for himself at the world under-18s in the spring, tallying eight points in six games for Canada. But the most impressive part of his stat sheet came during the bronze medal game against a gifted Finnish squad. Shinkaruk posted a hat trick – including the overtime winner – as Canada dusted the Finns 5-4. Though an appearance on this year’s world junior team may be a long-shot due to all the talent Canada will have at its disposal, Shinkaruk’s hoping to make noise of a different kind after his name is called at the draft in New Jersey this summer. “My goal is to make it to the NHL next year,” he said.
He’s already used to the spotlight, so that will be a new challenge for the youngster to take on.