Players can compete in the Canadian major junior leagues at a minimum age of 16 unless a special exemption is granted. As one may expect in a league filled with 17-20 year old players, a 16 year old player must carry significant talent if they are able to contribute to the team at that age. They're getting used to a new level of competition and physicality, and their bodies and skillsets are still growing. Anyone who can make an impact at that age deserves a closer look. Should that player improve, then they will not just get more attention for getting drafted, but understandably deserve it. One such player out of the Western Hockey League fits that mold: left winger Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Who is Hunter Shinkaruk?
Hunter Shinkaruk is a three-season veteran with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL and is 18 years old. He's listed on the WHL website at being 5'10" and 175 pounds. Immediately you can guess what one of the concerns will be for Shinkaruk as a prospect: his size. He's not particularly big. That said, the smallish forward has lasted over 180 games with his team and been quite productive since he was 16.
OK, given his October birhdate, his 16-year old season was mostly spent as a 17-year old. Still, he stepped up to the next level in 2010-11 and performed admirably. He took it to the proverbial next level alongside first-round draft pick Emerson Etem. Shinkaruk tallied 49 goals and 91 points in 66 games to finish twelfth in the league in scoring. Without Etem in 2012-13, Shinkaruk served notice to any critics that he was benefiting solely from Etem by putting up 37 goals and 86 points in 64 games in this past season. He finished fourteenth in the WHL in scoring too, so his drop of five points isn't particularly worrisome relative to the league he was in. It wasn't just his point totals that soared in his three years with Medicine Hat. Shinkaruk became the team's captain for the 2012-13 season, which speaks to how his responsibilities have grown since joining the club as a 16 year old player.
Over at NHL Numbers, Kent Wilson applied NHL Equivalency factors for this year's draft class to see how their draft-year scoring would measure up in the NHL. It's not a value written in stone, but it's a good way to put the various scoring totals from various leagues in perspective. Shinkaruk finished just a hair below Sean Monahan, who Karen profiled last week; a little less than Max Domi; and outside of the top five consensus forwards in the draft. What Wilson found was that while Shinkaruk's scoring was particularly elite, it was high enough to believe that he could be a scoring forward one day. The rule of thumb is 30 and Shinkaruk surpassed it.
Shinkaruk has been involved at the international level up until this past season. He represented well for Canada Pacific in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011. The team finished third and Shinkaruk finished fourth in the tourney in scoring and just behind Matt Dumba on the team. He was a big part of the Canadian U-18 team at the World U-18 tournament back in 2012. He tied Kerby Rychel for second in scoring with eight points and scored the overtime winning goal (and his third of the game) in the bronze medal game against Finland. Shinkaruk didn't make the Canadian WJC team in late 2012, though. He was a late cut on a roster boosted with otherwise-NHL players due to the lockout. In any other year, he probably would've made it - maybe he will this December?
Nevertheless, Shinkaruk isn't big but his production has been. Clearly, he's got some game to be ranked sixth among North American skaters by Central Scouting Services. Those who have seen him play have plenty of praise for Shinkaruk.
What Experts Have Said about Hunter Shinkaruk
Elite Prospects' profile has this short summation about Shinkaruk as a player.
A speedy, offense-first winger, Shinkaruk has silky smooth hands and sees the ice really well. He is also a hard worker who always gives 100% on the ice and plays with a lot of enthusiasm.
Just about any opinion or analysis about Shinkaruk is going to highlight how good he has been on offense and how good he is at skating. Let's start with prospect guru Corey Pronman, who had Shinkaruk tenth in his top ten prospects at Hockey Prospectus:
Shinkaruk has been a top scorer in the WHL over the past two seasons. Despite being a little on the smaller side, he deserves a top 10 ranking, as he possesses an immense amount of unique offensive talent. He moves effortlessly as a skater, showing the ability to gain power from each stride. That allows him to divert more energy to playmaking. His agility makes him tough to check in open ice. He turns his hips a lot, and his wide skating stance makes it difficult to predict where he will move. That said, his speed only ranks as good, not top end. Shinkaruk has rapid hands, and he can be very dangerous due to his creativity and coordination. Shinkaruk's physical game is his main issue. He is a small player, but he does work hard. He shows the ability to grind for the puck, but he will need to become stronger to keep it at the next level.
Pronman is not one to mince words or follow the herd when it comes to ranking a prospect. So if he thinks a player is a very good skater and has a strong offensive skillset, then there's something there. It's worth pointing out that Pronman pointed out how he can grind for the puck. Shinkaruk is not a big player but having the ability to do what most bigger forwards do just means size is the only issue, not courage or missing that skill. Being able to skate well and have strong hands will serve him well in spite of his size.
Of course, Pronman isn't the only one noting these strengths of Shinkaruk. Here's the summary listed for Shinkaruk in his profile over at Future Considerations:
Shinkaruk is an offensive force whose speed typically stands out among the crowd. He possesses good footwork, nice edge work and balance. He goes into the dirty areas and is not afraid to rub shoulders or make contact. He possesses good hand/eye coordination, a quick shot and can feather a pass on the tape while going full tilt. He’s used on both special teams because of his speed and tenacious puck pursuit. Despite his smallish stature, Shinkaruk has shown some strength with the puck and is good at shielding it with a man on him. He possesses good hockey IQ/hockey sense and wants the puck on his stick. He can create offense in an instant with the smallest amount of space afforded him because of his feet, hands and head.
This should help allay some of the concerns about Shinkaruk's size. He's apparently been able to withstand the rigors of the WHL. That said, you wouldn't want him to be a banger given that he's got a good mind for offense, a good shot, and the ability to make good passes. FC's profile pretty much sums up what one would like to read about an offensive forward.
Red Line Report has put up a page from their March 2013 edition about Shinkaruk. It likely came out a few weeks before the WHL season ended. Here's the link to it that I found through Google; be aware that the page is a .PDF file. The article itself focuses on how Shinkaruk responded well to being cut from Canada's WJC team as well as how he's improved since joining the WHL. In their scouting report blurb, RLR mentions Shinkaruk's strengths at skating, his hands, and his hockey sense. This quote stuck out to me:
"Has worked hard to round out the rest of his game the past two years, and is now decent in the defensive end with a good effort level"
Now, this is interesting. It didn't occur to me that there perhaps was a reason why his defensive game wasn't listed as a strength or a drawback. I just figured it was average and apparently, Shinkaruk worked his way to get there. Perhaps he can get better, which would be beneficial in case the offensive skills displayed in juniors doesn't carry over to the pro game. He's already been working on it based on what RLR writes. However, like most, they do note his lack of size is an issue. I'm not sure whether RLR will change their take in a future profile
Over at The Hockey Writers, Chris Peters has a detailed profile on Shinkaruk. He's compared Shinkaruk to the likes of Jeff Skinner in that he's a very good at changing direction and turning while skating. Helping the comparison is that Shinkaruk can get his shots off quickly. With respect to the defensive side of the game, Peters had this to say:
While some argue he is a defensive liability, I like his awareness away from the puck, the way he reads the play in his own end, and his ability to wreak havoc with anticipation and interception of pass attempts. He’ll still need work on positional awareness, but with his willingness to learn, he is a coach’s dream.
This is very heartening to read and it coincides with Red Line Report's noting that Shinkaruk has worked on that aspect of the game. Positioning is something that can come with not just a willingness to learn but also experience. It can be taught and it just means that the only thing that may hold Shinkaruk back is just his frame. Even there, he can become stronger.
As with most of the other profiles and opinions on Shinkaruk out there, Peters noted that his defense could be better and his size presents a concern for the next level. But unlike most, Peters' profile states that Shinkaruk doesn't carry a lot of risk and that he could be ready for the NHL in one to two years. In that time frame, he can get bigger, get better on defense, and continue to refine his offensive skills.
A Little Video
Here's a video from Shaw TV in Medicine Hat from December 2011 focusing on Shinkaruk's sophomore season. At the time, he scored his thirtieth goal recently. In between the interview bits, there are some highlights displaying his great shot.
Also from Shaw, here's an interview Shinkaruk did with Dave Dawson. It's good to learn more about the player as a person:
Lastly, here's a highlight video mostly comprised of his 2011-12 work and bouncing a whiffle ball on his stick in a, I guess, impressive fashion. I'm sure there will be video of his most recent season soon enough:"
An Opinion of Sorts
Basically, Hunter Shinkaruk is a small offensive winger who can skate rather well and has many of the tools one would desire in an offensive player. His defense has been improved in years, he's grown in his time at Medicine Hat to become a captain, and he's proven his hands, shot, and passing are all praiseworthy traits. While he wasn't as exceptional as some of the prospects considered ahead of him, it's clear to me that he's a prospect worth picking up.
And he should be available. Most of the mock drafts and rankings I've seen have Shinkaruk around the 8-12 range. I don't think that's so much a slam on Shinkaruk as it is other players being favored. The top five forwards - Drouin, MacKinnon, Barkov, Nichushkin, and Lindholm - and Seth Jones are likely going to be the top six in 2013. After that, there's that tier featuring Monahan, Nurse, Ristolainen, and Shinkaruk. Some have included others like Max Domi in that group, which makes me think Shinkaruk would be available by the time New Jersey picks. That's a good reason as any to avoid trading down unless all of those forwards are gone by then.
Medicine Hat's #9 would be a great pick at #9 in this year's draft. As noted many times in the past, the New Jersey Devils really don't have many high-end forward prospects in the system. Shinkaruk would absolutely fill that need at the prospect level and potentially fill one in a few years at the NHL level. I'm not at all concerned about his small frame. I don't think it would put off the Devils. It didn't stop them from taking small or just below average sized forwards like Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, or Mattias Tedenby. Besides, many teams in the league have committed and/or drafted smaller prospects on the basis of having bigger talent. Size does matter but not as much as it once did in my opinion. I would agree that he needs to bulk up, but it's just as important to refine his offensive skills to get ready for the next level and continue to work on his game in his own end. If it takes a year in juniors to do that, then so be it.
I'd like to know your take on Hunter Shinkaruk as a prospect based on all that you read here and elsewhere. Please feel free to share us what you know if you saw him play and/or follow the WHL? Does Shinkaruk's small frame concern you? How excited are you about his offensive skill set presuming the Devils do pick him? Should the Devils pick him if he's available? Please leave your answers and thoughts about Shinkaruk as a prospect and the (remote) possibility of the Devils of picking him in the comments. Thank you for reading.