Comets Tales: Being One - Hunter Shinkaruk
by Don LaibleDec 17, 2014
Hunter Shinkaruk sees his time with the Utica Comets as a fresh start; an opportunity to start a promising professional career. Being a top pick by the Vancouver Canucks at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, 24th overall, in and of itself was a huge victory for the Calgary native. To be 19-years old and being wooed by NHL franchises can be overwhelming. To be thought of to the degree where the player is tops on managements lists, well, that’s where individual pressure doubles-down. Thus far, Shinkaruk seems to have his game and emotions in check. “From a young age, all I have dreamed of is to be an NHL draft pick. For sure, I know the eyes are on me. That just gets me excited. The hard work that I put in will pay off. Hockey is what I love,” says Shinkaruk on playing as a number one selection. Heading into a weekend series with a game at The AUD against Texas followed by a road contest at Adirondack, Shinkarak, 20, is finding his game. Suiting up in the Comets’ dressing room with three other number one picks, the numbers collected thus far are respectable. Through 26 games the stat sheet reads 4 goals, and 6 assists. Three of those four goals have been game-winning goals. With experience comes confidence, which should lead to a first look-see on the NHL level with the Canucks for Shinkaruk. Points and goals are expected to rise from what have been collected so far from the left winger. His incredible ability to find the back of the net while playing juniors for the Medicine Hat Tigers is what caught the attention of Vancouver, and many other NHL scouting personnel. The math is compelling for Hunter. In three plus seasons with the Tigers, he racked up 219 points in 193 games. That is an attention getter. It worked. But pressure comes in being a projected top draft pick. Confident in his current teammates abilities, Shinkaruk is aware that a four-week rise can always be followed by a four-week tumble, he wisely downplays the Comets hot start. Outside of what the Canucks are expecting from their top draft pick, internally, the pressure is on. Getting to Utica, one year ago for Shinkaruk, although was eventual and hopeful, there were doubts all around those closest to him. Last December 27, Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran a story by The Canadian Press announcing left hip surgery was planned for Skinkaruk. In Vail, Colorado, on January 7, 2014, Dr. Marc Philippon, who specializes in hip disorders repaired Shinkaruk’s torn labrum. Shinkaruk, one of two first-round choices selected by Vancouver last year (Bo Horvat being the other) played just 18 games for the Tigers in 2013-14, a lot of those in pain. Undergoing the surgery, Shinkaruk’s season, and juniors career, had ended. During the rehabilitation period, Shinkaruk addressed a couple of issues. Gaining strength, and adding 15 pounds in the off-season, appears to have made a difference in both his play and confidence. Hunter is using his body more in front of the net. During this past July’s Canucks summer development camp, Vancouver’s general manager Jim Benning was quoted in Canadian-based Face-Off.com on Shinkaruk’s progression. “Part of why the team drafted him (Shinkaruk) was his ability to skate and that fearlessness to get to the net to want to score. So it’s good to see the hip surgery hasn’t affected his skating. He’s also looked good this week.” Physically, all appears in tip-top shape for Shinkaruk in Utica. Once NHL training camp doors swung open, so did Shinkaruk’s game. In pre-season action, there were a goal and assist scored against San Jose, leading to a Vancouver victory. Then a second straight game, this one with Calgary, where Shinkaruk collected another goal and assist. “Rehab was tough to handle. I did a lot of hard work,” Shinkaruk explains. “My biggest adjustment heading into July (Canucks’ development camp), was that I hadn’t played since last November.” Still, just two months past his 20th birthdays, Shinkaruk continues to go about his work under the proverbial microscope. During 2013, his first NHL training camp with the Canucks, Shinkaruk was among the team’s final cuts. Ditto for this past fall. Remaining healthy, and injury free, seem to be a preferred remedy for Shinkaruk. Back when he played on the midget level, Hunter broke his right tibia and fibula (leg). At 5’11” 180 lbs., Shinkaruk seems to be making his way around AHL ice with the authority of someone of much larger stature. “I thought I had two good camps in Vancouver,” Shinkaruk tells. “I have three great coaches (in Utica) to learn from everyday, who have played at the highest level.” With each practice session, each road trip, Shinkaruk is expected to grow closer in being an NHL One, as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. There are no guarantees, however, when a player comes along with talent and drive as Hunter Shinkaruk, it’s matter of when, not if.