18-year-old Medicine Hat Tigers' left winger hopes dedication and hard work will pay off
Four years ago, Hunter Shinkaruk was a talented, under-sized forward who had to wait until the 14th pick of the Western Hockey League Bantam Draft to be selected because some doubted his size.
Since then, the 18-year-old Shinkaruk has proven many people wrong by torching the WHL for 219 points in 193 regular season games and receiving league-wide recognition as one of its top players.
His production has many experts predicting that the now 5-foot-11, 175-pound left winger will not last very long at the National Hockey League Draft on June 30, 2013 and he will move one step closer to his dream of playing in the NHL.
"The biggest skill he has is his passion and his will to win. His work ethic is off the charts and he's a very intelligent offensive player. He loves the puck and has a desire to make things happen when he has it ..."
– Ross McLean
"From a young age, it's been something I've loved to do and there really is nothing else that I want to do with the rest of my life other than play hockey," said Shinkaruk passionately, as he reflected on when he first knew he wanted to play in the big leagues.
But, Shinkaruk's NHL dreams haven't come without a few bumps along the way with the first one coming when he broke both his tibia and fibula in his right leg during his first year of midget.
"It was tough. I had never really had any adversity in my hockey career. Everything was going smoothly and that was the first tidal wave I had to get over."
And get over it he did, as Shinkaruk rehabbed his leg and jumped straight to the WHL the following season and recorded 14 goals and 42 points for the Medicine Hat Tigers in his rookie year.
He added to his totals during his second season by scoring 49 goals and tallying 91 points.
In his third season the Tigers named Shinkaruk team captain and he received an invite to Canada's selection camp, for the World Junior team in December.
At that camp, Shinkaruk would be cut from a team for the first time in his life. But rather then sulk about the experience, he views it as a positive because it now gives him a little extra motivation when he's on the ice.
"It drove me for the rest of my year and it's going to drive me in everything I do now. I'm going to be up against those kids that made that team for a long time, and every time I'm on the ice it's always going to be in the back of my mind."
And despite not making the World Junior team or scoring 50 goals this season, Shinkaruk remains happy with how his season played out and hopes to make the jump to the NHL as early as next season.
"I feel I came along way as a player and as a person. I kind of look at it as had I scored 50 goals this year, maybe it might have allowed me to go a little bit higher in the draft, but that's not going to really help me be a good NHLer. I know I have to learn all three zones, and this year I had to learn the defensive zone."
Ross MacLean, head scout with International Scouting Services, has seen Shinkaruk play quite a bit over the years and has this evaluation of the 18-year-old.
"The biggest skill he has is his passion and his will to win. His work ethic is off the charts and he's a very intelligent offensive player. He loves the puck and has a desire to make things happen when he has it," said MacLean.
MacLean also added that he would not be at all surprised if Shinkaruk was playing on the first-line in the NHL in the very near future, with the possibility of cracking the lineup as early as next season.
MacLean's assessment fits right in line with Shinkaruk's goals for next season.
"I think any kid wants to play in the NHL as quick as possible. I work really hard and every time I'm in the gym right now my goal is to get there next year," said Shinkaruk.
And when you're so close to your big dreams becoming a reality, no one should be referring to Hunter Shinkaruk as small anymore.
- By Ian Esplen