The Top 25 Under 25 is always a big series for Eyes On The Prize, and for the first time since its inception, we’ve had a player join the list while the reveal is still in progress. Acquired in a trade for Kerby Rychel on Monday, the newest member of the Montreal Canadiens organization, Hunter Shinkaruk, joins the ranks of youngest players in the system.
Shinkaruk is in a very similar spot to Rychel; both have bounced between AHL clubs with some solid, but unspectacular numbers to their names. In fact Shinkaruk was drafted just five spots after Rychel in 2013, and one ahead of Canadiens draftee Michael McCarron.
On his newly signed one-year deal, he’ll be looking to make an impact. Whether it’s at the NHL or AHL level, the 23-year-old winger needs to tap into the talent that allowed him to tally 49 goals in the WHL. He has the talent still, but seemed to be lost in shuffle in the Vancouver/Utica pipeline while he managed just 14 games at the NHL level after being traded to the Calgary Flames.
He’s had some decent production at the AHL level, including a near point-per-game pace the year he was traded by the club that drafted him, but had lagged a bit behind since then in Stockton.
Despite being another young, talented reclamation project, there is no guaranteed spot for him in either lineup next year in Montreal, meaning he’ll need to impress in either the NHL or AHL camp to lock down a role for himself.
In his draft year, Shinkaruk was praised for being an offence-first winger, with good speed allowing him to be a dynamic presence on the ice. He reads the game well, and combining that with smooth hands creates a player who can be very dangerous with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Given some of the players added to the Laval Rocket roster this off-season, adding a player with a skill set like Shinkaruk’s could pay off big time for his new club.
In his last two seasons with the Stockton Heat, Shinkaruk may not have been their star scoring forward, but with him on the ice he was managing to have a positive impact in terms of goals.
Both of the charts above highlight that, relative to his teammates, Shinkaruk was always a net-positive in goals for, while also limiting his goals against as well. Stockton did have plenty of talented players, such as Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane, but their depth left a bit to be desired, and that’s something that Laval won’t have an issue with this season.
Shinkaruk’s skating allows him to split through defenders with ease, and it’s not just flat-out speed; he’s very good at changing angles to find an opening in a defence to create scoring chances. That ability to lose himself in coverage and find soft spots makes him a great finishing option, which he showcased while with the Utica Comets earlier in his career. That speed and finishing talent could mesh well with a playmaking option like Jake Evans for the Rocket, or even someone built in a similar vein like Will Bitten or Daniel Audette.
While a good goal-scorer, particularly on his backhand, Shinkaruk is also capable of being a consistent playmaker in the offensive zone. He has the talent to place perfectly threaded passes to teammates cutting to the net, or if he finds them slipping into a soft coverage zone. With his propensity for reading the game well, he often finds ways to make plays happen for himself and teammates by creating new paths to the goal, or drawing away defenders with his speed to open up space for his linemates.
Like Rychel, the talent to get to that next level is there, but has only been shown in spurts thus far in his career. Finding that consistency is going to be the key to unlocking Shinkaruk’s total potential. When he was drafted, many thought he could make the NHL as a top-six forward. At 23 years of age, he can still make that happen, but currently he’s bogged down a bit by some middling showings at the AHL level.
Despite all of Calgary’s injuries, or poor performances by NHL talent, Shinkaruk never got the call last year for an NHL stint, which is discouraging considering some of the players used in his place.
While he is by no means a defensive liability on the ice, as noted above by his goals-for chart, like many other young players he could work to tighten up his play defensively. With his skating ability he is able to cover ground easily and has no issue getting into shooting lanes to limit chances against.
In terms of the trade, this is a lateral step for the Canadiens. Both Rychel and Shinkaruk are looking for fresh starts, and this is that chance. While Rychel was a very good finisher for the Rocket last year, his skating isn’t close to the same level as Shinkaruk’s, which is a tough pill to swallow as the game shifts more and more toward speed and agility.
Shinkaruk will be competing with a ton of young prospects and fellow AHL veterans for a roster spot this season in Laval should he not lock down an NHL role. Luckily for him, his new head coach, Joël Bouchard, has made a career out of getting the most from players in similar positions.
Regardless of his role, he’s a very useful player for the Canadiens to have, and it’s now up to Shinkaruk to make the most of this fresh start with the Canadiens.
Where would you have ranked Hunter Shinkaruk on your Top 25 Under 25 ballot?
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