The question of how a prospect that only appeared in 18 games last season, and performed poorly, yet still managed to jump up three spots after having been ranked 5th by our staff last summer is a fair one, although I’d caution that 1/3 of the voters involved have changed since then. That probably has more to do with the shift than anything else, really.
With that being said, it’s also surely a testament to what we believe is Hunter Shinkaruk’s dynamism as a prospect. That high-end skill level explains why we continue to have Shinkaruk rated this high on our list, despite his most recent ‘lost’ season.
Shinkaruk’s disappointing campaign was reflected in my own personal rankings, where he dropped from the top spot to firmly in second behind the guy we all know is number one on this list at this point. Still, I remain steadfast in my belief that Shinkaruk has the greatest reasonable ceiling among any player currently in the team’s system.
Though we remain bullish on Shinkaruk’s prospects of developing into an impact player at the NHL level, there are some significant red flags that significantly impact his projections. Obviously the hip surgery which kept him off of the ice for nearly 7 months is the big one here but there’s also the drop in play he exhibited prior to having his ’13-’14 season end prematurely.
I spoke with WHL scout Cody Nickolet about what he was seeing from Shinkaruk early on last season:
“Yes, his lackluster production in ’13-’14 was definitely due to the injury.
Even from seeing him early in the year you could tell something just wasn’t quite right with his game. Normally a player of his calibre really steps his game up following the season he gets drafted, especially when he was a first round selection. We just didn’t see that with Hunter before the start of December. He didn’t have the same explosiveness and power in his stride and he didn’t seem as involved as he had been in the past.
As a bit of a side note, his hip problem makes me wonder. Most people who follow prospects closely know that Hunter has a bit of an odd skating stride in that he uses his inside edges a lot and does a ton of pivoting with his body, just like Jeff Skinner and Crosby like to do. I wonder if that played into the cause of the injury at all and also wonder if the surgery will alter how he skates and plays the game. That’s all speculation on my point and I guess we’ll find out soon.”
In a somewhat sadistic way, that comes as a relief, if not a surprise. It’s impossible to definitively quantify how much of Shinkaruk’s suppressed production can be attributed to the injury he was nursing, though Cody’s sentiments have seemed to be universally echoed by those in the know.
Anecdotally, I remember seeing him live back in November and – despite the show he put on after the game – coming away rather unimpressed by his individual performance. At the time I chalked that up to noise that accompanies a one-time viewing, but retrospectively the lack of a higher gear and general tentativeness which plagued his shortened season makes sense given what we now know.
Prior to his draft eligible season (or two summers ago), Corey Pronman raved about his innate ability to get around the ice, accentuating the other prevalent tools in his arsenal in a symbiotic manner:
“He moves effortlessly as a skater, showing the ability to gain power from each stride. That allows him to divert more energy to his 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.“
It would make sense that a relatively serious hip ailment would be even more potentially restricting to Shinkaruk than to most others, given that understanding. And after having attempted to slog through the schedule since initially tweaking it in the 6th game of the season – presumably with his eyes firmly fixated on getting to represent his country in the World Junior Championships – he was promptly shut down shortly after being cut from the team.
Losing a year like Shinkaruk did, during a key point in his developmental curve, is far from ideal. There’s still legitimate reasons to be excited about him as a prospect. Corey Pronman had him tabbed as the 31st best prospect in the entire league last month, which is once again a testament to how highly Shinkaruk is thought of; Pronman would be the first to admit that he’s of a more conservative nature as it relates to his rankings and methodology, but in speaking with him I’d describe his attitude on the player as “cautiously optimistic”.
The pervasive Shiny New Toy Syndrome can be a tough thing to overcome, but it’d be foolhardy to overlook the past exploits of a player that has still yet to turn 20 years old. Remember that when adjusting for league and era, Hunter Shinkaruk’s production in his first draft-eligible season not only placed him amongst some elite company, but also blew someone like Jake Virtanen’s out of the water.
This coming season will undoubtedly be a big one for Shinkaruk, in a few respects. By stepping back onto the ice he’ll have a chance to dissuade people of any lingering fear about how his surgically repaired hip will respond to game action. I reached out to someone far more qualified to speculate about the minutiae of the injury for someone with Shinkaruk’s profile.
She was quick to point out that while nothing is set in stone in medicine, Shinkaruk should theoretically not be more predisposed to additional (related) injury than any of his peers, and that the actual recovery itself from the procedure he had is relatively straightforward. It’s worth noting that he’ll have had a lengthy window to fully heal by the time he competes in this coming weekend’s Young Stars Classic, which is quite important in ensuring there isn’t re-injury in these situations.
Beyond that, Shinkaruk will also be afforded an opportunity to show that his game can translate to the next level against grown men despite concerns about his build. As per the NHL-CHL agreement Shinkaruk is AHL-eligible in ’14, and barring an otherworldly showing in the next couple of weeks, he’ll likely at the very least start his season with the Comets.
What the rest of the campaign holds for him remains to be seen but as we noted when profiling Nicklas Jensen last week, Shinkaruk’s particular skills lend themselves to the optimistic belief that he could potentially help the Canucks at some point in the coming year.
OTHER PROFILES IN THIS SERIES:
- #20 Anton Cederholm
- #19 Mike Zalewski
- #18 Evan McEneny
- #17 Nikita Tryamkin
- #16 Gustav Forsling
- #15 Henrik Tommernes
- #14 Joseph LaBate
- #13 Thatcher Demko
- #12 Dane Fox
- #11 Alex Grenier
- #10 Jordan Subban
- #9 Cole Cassels
- #8 Ben Hutton
- #7 Brendan Gaunce
- #6 Jared McCann
- #5 Nicklas Jensen
- #4 Frank Corrado
- #3 Jake Virtanen