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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

Prospect wrap-up: Hunter Shinkaruk

I am truly sorry to say that Jim Benning has made a team other than his own – in this case unfortunately, ours – look bad.

When the Flames acquired Vancouver top prospect Hunter Shinkaruk for go-nowhere centre Markus Granlund, it was declared an immediate steal. Shinkaruk was arguably the story of the late 2015-16 season, slotting in with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the top line and immediately gelling.

Since then, things have not been great. Shinkaruk was cut from training camp and struggled relative to the season before in the AHL while Granlund stuck in Vancouver and became one of their better players this year.

But it may not be as bad as it looks.

Brief history

A local product, Shinkaruk has been putting up numbers everywhere he’s gone. He recorded 42 points in 63 games in his first WHL season, and 91 in 68 the next, scoring 49 goals that year. A potential top 10 pick in 2013 (and someone who many fans clamoured for on draft day), he slipped to Vancouver’s hands, becoming the 24th overall pick.

The next few years weren’t so lucky. His offence plateaued in his draft+1 year and an injury claimed his D+2 year. However, he rebounded in the professional ranks, becoming a key member on some sorry Utica Comets teams. In particular, his 2015-16 year raised heads. Even after he was traded, he finished second on the Comets in scoring, trailing the leader by nine points and 24 games played. The man in third, former Flame Carter Bancks, finished with the same total in 31 more games.

2016-17 performance

GP-G-A-P Primary Points 5v5 P1 NHLe
AHL 52-15-20-35 28 22 26.49
NHL 7-0-1-1 0 0 N/A

Even with his struggles this season, he was still able to be a reliable provider of primary offence at all situations. He also had significantly less ice time, playing at a second line rate according to prospect-stats. Everything, except for secondary assists, was rated at a first line clip, so perhaps with first line minutes, his numbers go up.

The graph does not paint a pretty picture.

Perhaps a bit of misfortune plays into this. After he was recalled (that flat line on the left), he started struggling, so I originally felt the two could be linked. This was also compounded by an injury that forced him to take three weeks off. Later, he did improve, but then fell down as the rest of the Heat did, recovering when they recovered, too.

Perhaps he was a guy who stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time, but I find it a bit troubling that, for a guy who was supposed to be one of the Heat’s key contributors, he couldn’t help when they really needed it. Again, maybe bad luck, maybe a step back. I lean towards bad luck considering the season he had before the Heat started struggling.

Quotable

Once again, we go to Stockton play-by-play man Brandon Kisker, who has some explanations for Shinkaruk’s struggles:

I think there was a time where Shink lost a bit of confidence. You know you start gripping that stick tightly and you start getting unlucky with your chances and you start to wonder if you’ll ever score again. And unfortunately for Hunter, everyone not named Jankowski was having a rough go of it at that time. But as in all streaks they come to an end and you can see him pick his game back up toward the end of the year during our playoff push and he started doing things we know he can do. Certainly, a tougher year than he wanted yes, but reason to panic, no. He was big for us in the first round series with San Jose I thought.

So what should he do to be an NHLer next year?

I think one of the simplest things that makes an NHLer an NHLer is consistency. I think that’s also one of the reasons prospects in hockey don’t jump from being junior stars to NHLers with ease (except for the top overall picks). For Hunter and everyone on the Heat it’s consistency, being able to rely on him to bring the energy and get a goal when they need it.  He really stepped up his game toward the end of the year and was noticeable night in and night out, which leads me to believe that the slump that hit everyone was just that, a one-off slump. Plus, there aren’t too many players I’d rather have, Game 5, overtime, breakaway chance to send your team past the best team in the West than him. Tough bounce off the post… off the goalie, and behind the net. Mere centimeters away from still playing hockey right now.

Final thoughts

After this season, Shinkaruk is on a razor-thin line.

The Flames currently have 14 forwards on their roster, and only Kris Versteeg is a UFA (and there’s no reason not to bring him back). Assuming they qualify all of their RFAs (the only questionable one is Alex Chiasson, and again, no reason not to), there’s really no space left. For their prospects’ sake, the team has to hope that one of their forwards gets claimed.

But even if that did happen, there’s still 13 players. Maybe they bury another guy (sorry F.Ham or Bouma), but that’s a full lineup of forwards left. This is also assuming the Flames don’t acquire another high-end piece for their roster, or don’t make any other moves (and honestly, with the quality of the bottom six, there’s probably not a lot of moves that can be made). No matter which way you cut it, there may only be one spot available for AHLers to make the jump.

And that’s a problem because there will be a lot of competition for that spot, especially among guys who only have one year to make the show. Shinkaruk, along with Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Daniel Pribyl, and (to a lesser extent) Emile Poirier will all be out of a contract at the end of next season. With a promising crop of kids heading up from the 2016 draft (Dube, Tuulola, Phillips will be out of the CHL, Lindstrom is a maybe), you figure that those who don’t prove their worth are gone. You can’t, and shouldn’t, hold on to a bunch of AHL 20-somethings forever.

I might give Shinkaruk a bit of an edge due to previous experience in the league and his ability to play both wings, but again, razor thin. If bad luck strikes again or his performance levels dip, it’s hard to justify a second contract. If he makes the Flames, he has to stick. If he doesn’t, he has to be the best in Stockton. Simple as that.

Previously

Rasmus Andersson, Kenney Morrison, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington, Stepan Falkovsky, Keegan Kanzig/Mason McDonald, Ryan Culkin/Brett Pollock, Mitchell Mattson, Adam Fox, Brandon HickeyRiley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison

  • BendingCorners

    I think Alex will be taken by Vegas unless BT signs and protects him. Depending on how the summer goes and especially on how they look in the pre-season, I would guess that Lance will be waived and Freddie traded. That leaves space for Mark J and Hunter S with a gap on the RW. Troy is staying and playing unless Curtis outshines him which is very unlikely. In a perfect scenario BT would find a RW even better than Johnny but more likely he just finds a replacement for Alex. Matt S will play more than Mark J but the latter will see enough games to establish himself. It all adds up to a small improvement over last year. Combined with the natural improvement of the young core players it should lead to a better season and post-season than the one just ended.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      No way the Flames are going to trade Dougie’s Brother, he’ll be the perennial bench & fill guy for a while here. Curtis already outshines TB so the perfect scenario would be to politely ask troy which 15 teams he doesn’t want to be traded to and then deal him on the cheap, have to figure in the wait to see who LVGK can be persuaded to take (hint hint Bouma). We’ll all just have to wait and see…. can’t wait for June 21st to Finally get things moving!

      • BendingCorners

        I hope you’re right about Curtis but so far in three seasons he looks like a fifth line spare part. As for Troy, he’s overpaid but 30 points from a fourth line player is nothing to sneeze at.
        Any loyalty the team shows to Freddie is misplaced; Hunter and Morgan are both better.

        • Nick24

          I’m not sure how you designate players, but Brouwer was not deployed as a 4th liner. Among forwards he was the 6th most used option (all situations) and was also the 3rd most used forward on the power play. That deployment, to me suggests that he was used as a top-six forward and PP specialist. For comparison sake, Brouwer played over 110 more minutes on the power play than Alex Chaisson and only out scored Chaisson by one point. Brouwer’s 25 point production this season was nothing short of a disaster, and that’s not even including the fact he has 3 more years left at $4.5m per.

  • freethe flames

    Like the other prospects in the organization Shinkaruk holds his future in his own hands. He needs to have an excellent off season and needs to come into camp looking to push the pile and make GG/BT realize that he is NHL ready and capable of pushing guys like Bouma/FHamilton/Stajan etc off the depth chart. This team needs to join the top teams by having 4 lines that can play and there is plenty of room for guys like Shinkaruk/Lazar/Klimchuk/Janko/Hathaway/Mangiapane to add to this equation. It’s up them to earn it.

    • BringtheFire

      I agree. I think that’s the biggest thing about being a full time NHLER: how good your off season is.

      I think the fact that one has to sacrifice EVERYTHING, all the time, all year round to earn and keep your spot-and even then you might just play well enough to get yourself traded, or the like-is a shock to those kids. That commitment can be a huge mental hurdle to overcome.

      Also, that’s why I think-long term- Chucky was the safest bet of his draft. His dad made sure he understood what it takes. And that’s somewhat rare and totally crucial.

  • everton fc

    First, regardless of who his brother is, Freddie H. was/is a reliable extra forward. I’d rather have him on the ice than Bouma. He played well, and made few mistakes, when given a chance. To say guys like Klimchuk and Shinkaruk are “better” – there’s simply no proof.

    I hope Chiasson’s back. We need to be patient. One more year of Bouma-Stajan-Chiasson, while not ideal, won’t kill us. If we can deepen and strengthen our backend, we should be primed for another playoff run. This includes goaltending. Obviously. I am starting to hope we can move Brouwer for Fleury. Fleruy and Johnsone might just work, as we the final turn of this rebuild.

    Jankowski will play here next season. If we lose Chiasson, he may be deployed as a RW. I understand from posts here in the past he has indeed played RW. So “maybe”. Or, you slot Bennett w/Backlund and Frolik, move Tkachuk to RW with Gaudreau and Monahan, and go with a third line of Bennett-Jankowski-Ferland, though I think moving Ferland away from Monahan and Gaudreau is not the right move.

    As for Shinkaruk… He’ll have a tough time cracking the lineup next season, unless Bouma can be moved. I don’t see Brouwer playing 4th line minutes. I see him on the 3rd line, RW w/Versteeg and Bennett, unless they move him. Lazar will get his chance, but he’s not near as good as Stajan, which isn’t a good thing for Lazar. A 4th line of Shinkaruk-Lazar-Brouwer/Hathaway may be a good one, but to pay Brouwer all those loonies for that type of role… Madness.

    LW/4th line is the only opening I see next season, unless we move Brouwer and move/lose Chiasson and/or Stajan. Shinkaruk… Lazar… Hathaway… Freddie… And maybe an outside acquisition… Spells “no room” for many of these guys, and our dfarm isn’t that deep anyway, so it may be worth keeping most of last years group together and see how things go, remembering our record after January 1st, which was spectacular.

  • everton fc

    One more thing; I’d protect Chiasson over Lazar and Brouwer. Vegas will not pick Lazar. BT’s contract is signed. Leave Lazar unprotected. Losing him over Chiasson, or even Stajan, isn’t going to tank us (Stajan may be the one picked by Vegas… We’ll know soon enough).

  • jakethesnail

    Shinkaruk won’t be a Flames regular any time soon…Getting Lazar shows the lack of confidence by Flames management on the readiness of their prospects on the farm.