When the Vancouver Canucks stepped up to the podium to make their 24th overall selection at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on Sunday, they may have been a bit surprised to see Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkurak still on the board. Needless to say, the Canucks followed their “draft the best player available” philosophy and took the speedy winger.
Shinkurak posted 86 points (37-49-86) in 64 games last season, his third in the Western Hockey League. Tigers' General Manager and Head Coach Shaun Clouston said the Calgary, Alberta, native possesses a filthy pair of mitts.
“He is a very skilled player with crazy quick hands, way above average, like off the charts as far as his hands are concerned,” said Clouston. “Just a very, very skilled player, an upper-level skilled hockey player that plays with good energy.
“He has Tyler Ennis type hands, a bit of a magician with the puck. Hunter has really great, elite, excellent puck skills.“
Ennis, a go-to offensive player with the Buffalo Sabres, played for the Tigers from 2005 to 2009. Another player that reminds Clouston of Shinkaruk is Edmonton Oilers sniper Jordan Eberle.
“He definitely has got Jordan Eberle type of puck skills,” said Clouston. “Hunter is a little bit bigger, but is similar in being very creative, very dangerous player. Definitely can control the game in the offensive zone, he can really play a puck possession game. Eberle I think is a fair comparison, good speed, good quickness and if you let them in tight the puck is in the back of the net.”
Although listed as a centre on most draft rankings and websites, Shinkaruk has played the wing his entire three-year WHL career, a career that has seen him post 219 points (100-119-219) in only 193 games.
“He has mostly played wing for us, he was a centreman in his minor hockey days,” said Clouston. “He has played wing for us for three years and really enjoys playing the wing. He likes picking the opportune times to drive wide or get in behind or through the defensemen. I am not saying he can’t be a centreman, but he definitely is more comfortable on the wing.”
Clouston believes times are changing and the days of smaller centreman may be coming to an end.
“In Medicine Hat we have taken some smaller players and put them on the wing. Years ago everyone had big wingers but I think that’s changed where the centreman now has to play like a defenseman, the game is three-on-three down low.”
Not only is Shinkaruk highly-skilled, he also brings an enthusiastic and intelligent mindset to the game.
“He is extremely intelligent, understands the game, understands what it takes, analyzes his game, breaks things down and knows what he has to do,” said Clouston. “I as a coach like that side of the game, the technical side. He is the type of player that I can bring in and talk to about the game.”
Clouston said Shinkaruk will enter the summer with the mindset of making the Canucks roster this upcoming season, but knows there are a few things he needs to work on.
“I think Hunter’s goal is to make the NHL this year coming up,” he said. “I honestly think he will have that as a goal even though he was picked 24th and not first, he believes that he can do it.
“He needs just a little bit of strength, and he knows that. He knows he has to get a little bit harder of a shot, a little quicker of a release and become more comfortable shooting the puck from the top of the circle. He knows there are certain things he needs to work on.”
Shinkaruk was born on October 13th, 1994, which meant he missed the 2012 NHL Entry Draft age cut-off by almost a month, which also means he only has to return to the WHL for one more season before turning pro. If Shinkaruk finds himself back in Medicine Hat next season, one thing is for sure, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder should be challenging for the league lead in points, capping off a stellar junior hockey career.
“He had an amazing year at the age of 16 after he missed his entire 15-year-old season with a broken femur,” said Clouston. “Because of the late birthday, when he started playing for us he was only 15-years-old, he hadn’t turned 16 yet. Basically by the end of that season he was playing in our top-six. Last year he had a huge season playing with (Ducks prospect) Emerson Etem on our top line as 17-year-old. As an 18-year-old he did a great job for us on an extremely young team with 11 rookies and only seven returning players. Even with such a young team we were able to make the playoffs and sweep the Saskatoon Blades in Round 1.”
Off the ice, Clouston describes Shinkaruk as a straight-laced kid that is very well respected and very professional in his demeanor.
“He is very passionate and loves the game,” he said. “The type of person that always has a smile on his face, shows up for team breakfast on the road, practice, games and meetings with a real positive energy. He just loves the game, loves being around the game, loves scoring and loves winning.
“Just a real good person.”