Medicine Hat's Shinkaruk driven to be the best
Monday, 12.10.2012 / 2:30 PM
By Mike G. Morreale
As captain for the Medicine Hat Tigers, forward Hunter Shinkaruk doesn't consider himself to be the loudest guy in the locker room.
He prefers getting his point across in other ways.
"Every day when I come to the rink, I want to make sure I'm the best player in practice … enhancing my game and being a good example to my teammates in the process," Shinkaruk told NHL.com.
Shinkaruk's passion for the game is contagious, no doubt. The smile on his face each time he steps on the ice is as palpable as the determined effort he'll provide each and every shift during a game.
"Every time I'm at the rink I'm in a positive mood and I just love to be out there, and I think that type of attitude really rubs off on my teammates," he said. "I'm always trying to make sure that I'm the best to kind of set a standard for the younger guys to feed off. Even though I'm wearing the 'C', we have a great locker room full of leaders and we all help each other."
Medicine Hat head coach Shaun Clouston is a witness to Shinkaruk's love for hockey each and every day.
"Whether it's a practice, game or workout, he rarely doesn't have a smile on his face," Clouston said. "He doesn't take anything for granted and is a great example to the younger guys."
That's important, too, particularly since Medicine Hat has a league-high 11 first-year players in the lineup.
Make no mistake, the 18-year-old center is the sparkplug to the engine. In 29 games for Medicine Hat this season, Shinkaruk is averaging 1.48 points. He has 19 goals, 43 points and a plus-2 rating despite being in the cross-hairs of every opposing coach devising a game plan. He also has 16 points on the power play and a team-high two game-winning goals.
Not surprisingly, the 5-foot-10.25, 181-pound Shinkaruk is considered the No. 2-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings for players in the Western Hockey League. Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, who could very well go No. 1 at the 2013 NHL Draft, is the league's top-rated skater.
"As soon as he touches the puck, people in the stands want to stand up and say, 'Here he goes.' … This kid is really exciting to watch," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "As soon as he touches the puck you go, 'Wow, this is great.'"
Shinkaruk is one of only three forwards -- Morgan Klimchuk of Regina and Curtis Lazar of Edmonton being the others -- to rank among the top 10 players from the WHL.
"The first thing I thought to myself when I saw the rankings was that there's one spot ahead of me, so every day I go to the rink or the gym, my goal is to be the No. 1 guy," Shinkaruk said.
Despite his frame, Shinkaruk enjoys going up against the top-ranked defensive prospects in the league. It's not unusual to find the WHL offering a heavy dose of high-caliber defensemen to choose from at each NHL Draft. Central Scouting ranks three defensemen among the top 10 in the Ontario Hockey League, one from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and five from the United States Hockey League.
"There are great defenders in our league and, personally, I feel lucky to be able to go up against the likes of Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart and Seth Jones … guys who were drafted very high or who will be drafted high," Shinkaruk said. "I never want to make excuses because when I reach the NHL level, I'll be going against guys like Zdeno Chara, so I feel lucky that the league helps me adjust to the kind of player I'll have to go up against down the road."
Shinkaruk did admit that Reinhart has been the toughest to play against in his three seasons in the league.
"He's a big kid and really smart," he said. "You really have to work hard against him to earn your space."
In addition to serving as an alternate captain for Team Orr -- Jones was named captain -- in the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 16, Shinkaruk was thrilled to learn he was one of 37 players invited to Hockey Canada's World Junior Championship selection camp in Calgary, Dec. 11-13.
Shinkaruk is one of four 2013 draft-eligible players invited to the camp, including Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and Ottawa 67's center Sean Monahan. Kamloops Blazers forward J.C. Lipon, passed over in the previous two drafts, is also eligible to be selected in 2013.
"There's going to be a competition between guys of this draft class," Shinkaruk said. "We want to prove we're the best undrafted players at this camp. I just want to make sure I'm the best player and the competition will certainly push me to make that team."
Only two players from Medicine Hat have ever gone among the top five at the NHL Draft -- Cam Barker to the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3 in 2004 and Jay Bouwmeester to the Florida Panthers at No. 3 in 2002. Clouston feels strongly that Shinkaruk could be among that select group.
"There's still hockey to be played, but he's had a great start and putting up some great numbers," Clouston said. "I think his game and strength are improving and I expect things to keep rolling. Regardless of where a player is picked, they still need to get better and that, to me, is why I believe Hunter will be a NHL player one day -- because of that positive attitude and belief that it will happen. So regardless if he goes top five or not, he's got a bright future."