Let us just get this point out of the way right from the start: Hunter Shinkaruk’s season with the Laval Rocket was abysmal in every possible sense. With 10 points in 54 games, it was a disappointing season for the 2013 first-round pick.
Acquired in a one-for-one trade for Kerby Rychel, Shinkaruk came to the Montreal Canadiens organization looking for a clean slate at the professional level. He was a first-round pick for a reason, with multiple 80-point seasons in the WHL and with speed to burn. He had plenty of potential to become a solid NHL player.
Partway through a great season with the Utica Comets in 2015-16, Shinkaruk was traded from the Vancouver Canucks to the Calgary Flames, and from there he never really rediscovered that same game.
His strengths were apparent. He has great hands and a penchant for feeding passes into tight spots around the net. He brings plenty of speed to beat opponents wide, and a gorgeous backhand shot, something he found success with in years past. However, this year there were only the briefest of glimpses of these skills, frustrating given how strong he looked when he was on his game. Yet when he had an off night, the Rocket may as well have been playing with 11 forwards.
For a team that desperately needed scoring help during the year, Shinkaruk’s poor performance could not have come at a worse time. Even when he was in the lineup down the stretch, Joël Bouchard opted to play his ECHL call-ups, who created more impact in the top six, while Shinkaruk was relegated to the bottom of the lineup.
Part of the issue came from his battle with injuries, missing 22 games with various ailments, including a lengthy stay on the IR with a concussion. That was obviously out of his control, but missing so many games played a factor in the poor showing he had.
There were good parts of Shinkaruk’s season. As stated above, there were flashes of talent, just not enough to be the player he was capable of being. He has the wheels to fly by opposing defenders and find that separation to create breakaways out of thin air. He ended up being a huge danger out of the penalty box, and with his ruthless backhand shot he knew how to make the most of those chances.
Oh my god Hunter that man has a family!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 29, 2018
Sick backhand goal by Shinkaruk gives Laval a 4-2 lead. pic.twitter.com/qXUH7GI2wJ
Despite being a skilled player, Shinkaruk sometimes showed he was willing to get into the net-front areas to battle away. While not the biggest, he could still hold his own in that area, and when on his game became a good contributor around the crease.
Shinkaruk is heading toward becoming a restricted free agent, in the final days of a deal that pays him $650,000 a year; pocket change for an NHL club in this day and age. It would be easy enough to ink him to a similar deal again, but following his poor showing the chances of him being qualified at all are slim to none. It stands to reason that he won’t be in high demand come July 1, either.
It is usually pretty easy to find a silver lining in a season review, even in a season like this one for the Laval Rocket. Yet for Shinkaruk, it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong did. Lacklustre play on ice, injuries, and generally stagnant production were the only things on offer from the forward. If he is to have a career left ahead of him, it likely isn’t as part of the Canadiens organization.