Things seemed to be on the upswing for Hunter Shinkaruk when he joined the Flames organization last year. His sophomore effort in the AHL helped to resuscitate his stock as a quality offensive prospect thanks to his 27 goals and 51 points.

Unfortunately for Calgary and the player, Shinkaruk took a step back rather than forward in 2016-17. The lack of progression not only dropped Shinkaruk 11 spaces on our prospect list (from two to 13), but put his future with the organization in doubt.

A brief history

Once upon a time, Shinkaruk was considered a potential top 10 talent. In his draft-1 season, the Calgary native scored 49 goals and 91 points for the Medicine Hat Tigers, second only to the much older Emerson Etem.

The rest of Shinkaruk’s junior career was plagued by inconsistency and injury. He fell to the Canucks at 24th overall in the 2013 entry draft and then spent almost all of the 2013-14 season in the infirmary. More questions arose about Shinkaruk when he failed to make an impact as an AHL rookie. His totals that year weren’t bad per se (16 goals, 31 points in 76 games), but they weren’t good enough to erase many of the doubts that had been raised about his NHL viability.

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The Canucks and Flames decided to trade question marks the next season, when the two rivals hooked up to swap Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund. The latter had proven to be an excellent minor league player for Calgary but had failed to take the next step at the NHL level, whereas Shinkaurk was younger and coming off a notable sophomore effort.

At the time the gamble made sense for both teams, but so far it has worked out better for Vancouver. Granlund seems to have found his NHL legs and turned into a capable middle rotation player for the Canucks. In contrast, Shinkaruk’s numbers fell back down to his rookie output (15 goals, 35 points in 52 games). In addition, his few forays at the NHL level for Calgary have not been notable.

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Quotable

The Toronto Star’s Scott Wheeler places Shinkaruk in the weird purgatory between the NHL and the AHL.

Shinkaruk is another one of those players who has the talent necessary to become a complementary offensive winger in the NHL but has struggled to become a dominant threat in the AHL, rather than just a very good one. Shinkaruk sits at a weird fringe level and it’s on him to take that next step and stick at the NHL level. While Poirier has the skating and lacks the puck skills, the reverse can probably be said for Shinkaruk, whose talent with the puck goes without saying.

Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska had a similar assessment as Wheeler, noting that being a consistently take-charge player is what’s keeping Shinkaruk from breaking through into the NHL ranks.

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Hunter, in a lot of ways, I think understands that he can affect the outcome of a game in a positive way. For him to do that consistently, it’s about him being around the puck all the time and demanding it. And that’s when you see him at his very best, where he would take pucks to the net and he would score some big goals for us.

The challenge for him is doing it consistently, where he’s making everyone take notice that this guy is ‘on,’ he’s taking charge of the game, he’s not waiting for things to happen, he’s making things happen, and that’s what Hunter is all about when he’s at his very best and that’s what I expect to see from him this year.

What comes next?

Shinkaruk turns 23 this year and is in danger of being passed on the depth chart by guys like Andrew Mangiapane and Morgan Klimchuk (if he hasn’t been already). A talented puck handler and shooter, Shinkaruk will have to find a way to consistently translate his abilities into results this season if he is going to have any future at all with the Flames.

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Previously

#20 – Ryan Lomberg
#19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson
#18 – Daniel Pribyl
#17 – Eetu Tuulola
#16 – Adam Ruzicka
#15 – Emile Poirier
#14 – David Rittich