The Heat played twice last weekend and boy, let me tell you, they really need someone who can score. Just a guy who can put the puck in the net, preferably one who is kinda small and pale. What’s that? They recently acquired a player fitting this description via trade? One that I had previously resigned myself to belittling and now must welcome into my heart unconditionally? Ya don’t say!
After firing everything but the kitchen Shink at San Jose on Sunday, the new Flames acquisition will surely bolster the rather anemic offense of the Stockton Heat for however long he’s with them. Let’s see how Hunter Shinkaruk will fit with the Heat and recap their weekend after the jump.
WHERE DOES HE FIT?
I will never not love these ‘slightly pensively stare down the barrel of a stick’ draft photos. They always look hilarious five seconds after their career starts. It’s as if they wish the players to prove that: “Yes, I shall play hockey. With a stick, kinda like this!” Great stuff, keep it up forever draft photographers.
As I am sure you have heard, the Stockton Heat have a pretty shiny new toy. Though this probably isn’t front of mind for many Flames fans but as long as Shinkaruk is in Stockton, he might be exactly what the Heat have needed all season. Shinkaruk’s 21 goals would be good enough for second on the Heat – he has more goals than Emile Poirier has points this season.
Let’s take a look at some basic numbers and compare Shinkaruk to some of the Heat’s top forwards:
Thanks to prospect-stats.com for the info
What immediately jumps out when looking at Shinkaruk’s counting numbers is that 31 of Shinkaruk’s 39 points are primary (goals or primary assists) points. That’s good news for the Heat who were desperately in need of a player who can generate offense. The Heat struggled when they had Derek Grant; without him, the need has grown exponentially.
It is also important to note that Shinkaruk is shooting basically 20% right now, which is pretty darn high. So hopefully he can continue that marksmanship a little longer once he gets to Stockton before that rate starts to come back down to earth.
In Utica, Shinkaruk was the Comets’ leading scorer and it appears as though he played on a line with Brendan Gaunce and Ronalds “The Plural” Kenins on what one could consider the Comets’ top line. I am curious how he will be used in Stockton as he will need to play top minutes, even if that comes at the expense of players like Mason Raymond.
The truth of the matter is that without Grant, the Heat don’t really have a top line anymore, though the temptation exists to mark whichever line has Klimchuk and Poirier on it as such. As I get into a little further down, the line doing all the heavy lifting this past weekend was Agostino-Hamilton-Hathaway, who were by far the Heat’s most effective forwards. If I had to guess, I would think that Shinkaruk would play on a line with Drew Shore at centre and Mason Raymond at RW, though this is pure speculation. Let me know if you disagree.
Without a doubt, it will be fun to see how Shinkaruk fits in. Before that, let’s get into how the Shinkaruk-less Heat played this past weekend.
WHAT WENT DOWN
This week marked the return of Bill Arnold to the Heat lineup, a welcome addition once the Heat lost Derek Grant to a jaw injury. Arnold slotted in on the ‘top’ line, centering Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier, a line that many Flames fans expect big things out of. Frankly, not a heckuva lot came out of this line in the pair of games this weekend.
With the pair of defensive call-ups to Calgary and Oliver Kylington still out with an upper body injury, some much-needed help arrived in Stockton on the back end. Gabriel Verpaelst (pronounced Ver-Past) and Mike Vernace were signed to PTO’s and played in both games this weekend, replacing Pat Sieloff who was benched in both games after a fairly rough outing against Ontario last Wednesday.
Verpaelst is a 22-year-old tough customer (logged 527 PIMS in his Jr career in the QMJHL) who can skate fairly well and, to my eye, appeared to be a slight upgrade on Sieloff though I am not sure the organization has designs on keeping him around long term. Vernace is a 29-year-old AHL veteran who had most recently spent time with Brampton of the ECHL. Apart from physicality, neither one were particularly remarkable, though Verpaelst seemed to be able to handle the puck well in the offensive zone.
This was a strange, strange game. As you can see, the Heat overcame an early deficit, built up a sizeable lead, then completely imploded, redeemed only by overtime heroics from Mason Raymond. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising as the Heat were missing their top pairing of Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon and started their backup goaltender Kent Simpson, but still, it should be expected that a 5-2 lead is safe.
This was a game where at long last, the Heat started to get some secondary scoring and looked like the same Heat team that had been so successful on home ice as of late. However, the third period meltdown likely resulted in Huska burning most of the tape from this game, simply relieved that the Heat came away with two points at all.
Freddie Hamilton continued his strong play from last week, notching three points for the Heat and finishing with a game-high five shots. Hamilton played on a line with Kenny Agostino and Garnet Hathaway and the trio played exceptionally well all game for the Heat. I have said this on a number of occasions so far this season but Agostino continues to impress.
On the backend Kenney Morrison, who had played rather well last week, scored a particularly nice powerplay marker in the first period and skated well all night. It was a bit of an uneven night for Brett Kulak who skated well but struggled with some defensive zone turnovers.
WHO LOOKED GOOD?
- The Agostino – Hamilton – Hathaway Line – Stockton’s most consistent offensive contributors all night, this line was fantastic and could have scored more often than they did. Agostino continued his strong play from previous weeks.
- Mason Raymond – The overtime hero, Raymond used his speed to separate himself from San Jose all night. In eight AHL games, Raymond has himself eight points.
- Kenney Morrison – Taking full advantage of the opportunity in front of him, Morrison played a great game and moved the puck exceptionally smoothly in the offensive zone.
Here’s how the lines looked on the weekend, though you can swap out Blair Riley for Austin Carroll for Saturday’s game:
- Klimchuk – Arnold – Poirier
- Agostino – Hamilton – Hathaway
- Raymond – Shore – Elson
- van Brabant – Heard – Riley
- Kulak – Johnson
- Morrison – Vernace
- Culkin – Verpaelst
This was a frustrating night for the Heat who generated a ton of shots but were simply unable to solve San Jose’s goaltender Aaron Dell. After tying the game in the third period, the Heat had an excellent opportunity to take the lead on a powerplay midway through the frame. However, San Jose scored shorthanded which proved to be a back breaker.
Overall, the Heat deserved better on Sunday but, in what is becoming a familiar refrain, were lacking in scoring touch around the net and ended the game frustrated. Freddie Hamilton played another strong game, scoring the lone Heat goal and generating at least a half-dozen quality scoring chances, but his performance wasn’t enough all by itself.
As has been the case far too many times this season, it was a fairly quiet weekend for Poirier and Klimchuk, who struggled to generate quality scoring chances and often over-passed the puck in the offensive zone. Perhaps the lack of continuity at centre is contributing to their struggles, but that might be giving them a little too much slack. Poirier especially has generated a fair number of shots At some point, they will have to start contributing offensively.
NOTE: Hunter Smith was a very tall scratch in both games this weekend. The scoop from HEATINSIDER Ryan Pike is that he is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
WHO LOOKED GOOD
- Kenny Agostino – Easily the most consistent contributor for the Heat this season not named Derek Grant. Agostino’s poise with the puck is perhaps his most impressive quality alongside his innate ability to get pucks on net. Seriously worthy of a call up at some point this season
- Freddie Hamilton – A leader for the Heat in both games, Hamilton was dangerous again on Sunday and scored the only Heat goal.
- Drew Shore – With only eight goals this year, it has been a rough ride for Drew Shore offensively. However, I thought his play this weekend was strong, and he is playing well with Mason Raymond on his wing.
After the weekend, the Heat find themselves in last place in the Pacific Division, tied with the San Antonio Rampage. However, like it’s big brother, the Pacific Division isn’t that great and if the Heat could string a few wins together, it’s still possible that they can catch their divisional opponents but the wins will have to come quick, and they’ll have to come on the road. Something the Heat aren’t very good at.
In ECHL action, the Adirondack Thunder got five of a possible six points in a three game stretch last weekend, with Louick Marcotte notching a pair of goals in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Elmira. The Thunder currently sit comfortably in second place in the ECHL’s Eastern division. Presently, the Thunder represent the best shot at playoff hockey in the Flames organization. No reports of Scorch were made available by press time.
The Heat are back in action on Wednesday at home against the San Diego Gulls. It should mark Shinkaruk’s first game as a member of the Heat. Puck drops at 8pm MT.