Hunter Shinkaruk’s hype comes with the odd asterisk.
The Medicine Hat Tigers forward has the size, speed and tenacity to draw comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, plus be pegged as a possible early selection in the 2013 NHL entry draft. He’s also hearing whispers wondering whether his 49-goal sophomore WHL campaign last season was in large part a product of playing alongside dynamic Emerson Etem.
Here’s guessing that Medicine Hat coach Shaun Clouston won’t have to work too hard on inspirational speeches for his top talent this season.
“I think there’s a lot of people who believe that I can’t be as good without [Etem],” said Shinkaruk, 17, who does a B.C. swing with the Tigers this week, visiting the Victoria Royals Wednesday, the Vancouver Giants Friday and the Kamloops Blazers Saturday.
“I’ve been asked the question so many times. Emerson was an unbelievable player, so fun to play with. He was a large part of my success last year, but I thought we fed well off each other.
“This past summer, I’ve tried to get stronger and faster, and tried to make sure that everyone who thought my 49-goal, 91-point season was all Emerson, that I can be that guy.”
He’s had a “that guy” kind of start minus Etem, the Long Beach, Cailf., speedster who put up 61 goals last season, was the 29th overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2010 and is set to play his 20-year-old campaign this year somewhere in their farm system.
He’s coming off a summer where he had a hat trick, including the overtime winner, to lift the Canadian Under-18 team to a 5-4 triumph over Finland in the bronze medal game at their world championships in Brno, Czech Republic. He finished the event with four goals and four assists in six games.
Later on, he was part of the Canada-Russia Challenge, and he was put into largely a checking role. He played in three of the four games in what amounted to the world junior team summer camp, and didn’t have a point.
“I was a third-, fourth-line guy and I had never experienced that before,” said Shinkaruk. “You do have to be a versatile hockey player.
“I went back after that, worked hard, and got myself mentally ready for the season.”
Shinkaruk, who turns 18 on Oct. 13, was about a month shy of being eligible for last June’s draft. Still, to put his accomplishment in perspective, Evander Kane scored 48 goals during his second season in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, and ended up going fourth overall to the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Shinkaruk isn’t the physical specimen that the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Kane is, but he grown considerably the past few years. He says he was a mere 5-foot-2, 115 pounds when the Tigers took him with the 14th overall choice of the 2009 WHL bantam draft; he’s listed now at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.
He’s the same height and six pounds shy of Kane, who Shinkaruk contends has “incredible hands,” which is part of the reason that being linked to him is an “honour.”
As Clouston points out, Shinkaruk is considerably larger than former Tigers star Tyler Ennis, the 5-foot-9, 157-pound winger the Buffalo Sabres used the 26th overall pick on in 2008 — a guy who scored 15 goals in 48 games a season ago.
“Tyler was more elusive but, in terms of straight-ahead speed, I think Hunter would have that on him right now,” Clouston said. “Like Tyler, Hunter’s a guy who loves coming to the rink and loves playing the game.
“It’s his passion and his dream and his focus. I’ve seen it with different guys and there’s something that sets them apart and he’s got that. There’s that drive that pushes them every day.”