The Flames acquired local boy Hunter Shinkaruk yesterday, a player who was within their grasp during the 2013 entry draft. The club went with Sean Monahan (sixth) and Emile Poirier (22nd) with their first two picks instead, leaving Shinkaruk to fall to the hated Canucks at 24th overall.
The decision set up the potential for an ongoing debate between Poirier and Shinkaruk, but that dichotomy is now moot with Calgary acquiring the 21-year-old winger for Markus Granlund. So how is it Shinkaruk came home to the Flames by such a circuitous route?
Hunter Shinkaruk was considered a top five draft talent at the onset of his WHL 2012-13 season. The small, shifty winger was coming off an incredible 47-goal, 91-point season for the Medicine Hat Tigers as a 16-17 year old and was roundly viewed one of the best offensive wingers available in the upcoming draft.
Unfortunately, his 18-year-old season wasn’t as impressive. Shinkaruk ran in place with 37-goals and 86-points, typically a bad sign for kids in junior. He still had some of the best offensive numbers amongst draft eligible forwards that year, but his stock had fallen enough by the end of season to push him out of the top five conversation.
Nevertheless, Shinkaruk was often mentioned in the 10-15 territory in most mock drafts. In fact, our consensus ranking that year put Shinkaruk at 12th overall, one ahead of Bo Horvat whom the Canucks took inside the top 10 (Poirier was 57th).
In reality, Shinkaruk’s stock had fallen much further than that in the eyes of NHL teams and scouts. As the draft neared, rumours of an entitled attitude surrounded the young man and seemed to explain why he wasn’t able to build on his incredible 17-year old season.
The combination of a step back in his output and whispers of a bad attitude was enough to drop Shinkaruk outside of the teens altogether. It almost seemed he would fall out of the first round completely until the Canucks stepped up and took him at 24th overall.
The doubts that plagued Shinkaruk at the draft seemed to be justified the next season. He suffered a hip injury early in the 2013-14 season, limiting him to just 16 points in 18 games that year. Though that can hardly be considered damning, the lacklustre output painted the picture of a kid who had peaked early and was struggling to live up to previously high expectations.
With 2013-14 being a write-off, Shinkaruk turned pro the next year. His performance was good but not great as an AHL rookie, scoring 16 goals and 31 points in 74 games for the Utica Comets. Not bad results for a 19-year-old turning 20 in a men’s league, but not eye-popping either. As a result, he continued to look more like a falling star than a future NHLer.
Things turned around for the 21-year-old this year, however. Shinkaruk was noticeably good in the Canucks pre-season and was one of the last cuts to head to the AHL. After finishing sixth on the Comets in scoring as a rookie, Shinkaruk managed to pace the club this year with 39 points in 45 games, six more than second placed Brendan Gaunce. He was also the team’s best goal scorer this year, totalling 21 markers to Gaunce’s 15 (only one other Comet has more than 10 goals).
The big sophomore push seems to have renewed some faith in the player’s NHL future. Unfortunately for Shinkaruk, his path to the show seemed to be blocked by former Flame pick Sven Baertschi, who plays the same position and can be considered a similar player (smallish, skill scorers).
Bringing us to the recent trade. The Flames are woefully short on scoring wingers in the system, particularly with Emile Poirier’s (ironic) step back this year. With Markus Granlund failing to take a meaningful step forward in the NHL this season, it set the Flames up for a prospect-for-prospect swap with the Canucks. Especially with avowed Granlund fan Jon Weisbrod in the Canuck’s front office.
Calgary represents a very real opportunity for Shinkaruk. When Jiri Hudler is dealt at the trade deadline next week, the list of effective scoring wingers in the Flames org begins and ends with Johnny Gaudreau.
Of course, Shinkaruk is anything but a sure thing. His excellent AHL season and junior career aside, we have no idea if the kid will be able to do anything at the NHL level. Markus Granlund was a top notch AHLer too, but he never really figured it out at the next level.
At worst, this trade is a push for the Flames – they’ve exchanged one fringe NHLer for another. Given Shinkaruk’s age (he’s a year and half younger) and what we know about Granlund (he’s a tweener), there’s a least some chance the former Canuck will become something more.