The odds are stacked against an 18-year-old making the Canucks roster. First of all, there are just two of them left — Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk — and second of all, there are limited spots available in the lineup.
Most of the talk heading into this season has been about the third-line centre spot, with Horvat being the long shot among the players up for the role. But there’s one opening that has been less discussed until Monday night, after Shinkaruk impressed with his quick feet in the Canucks’ first preseason game: second line winger.
David Booth has yet to skate during Canucks training camp, either because he’s still on the mend from his March ankle surgery or because the Canucks are simply being overcautious. Either way, it’s entirely possible that Booth won’t be ready to start the season or will be held out of the lineup until he can skate a few times with the team in practice.
Assuming that Zack Kassian gets a chance to play with the Sedins to start the season, that would move Alex Burrows down to play with Booth and Ryan Kesler. If Booth isn’t in the lineup on opening night, that leaves at least a temporary opportunity for another player. The Canucks could simply choose to bump another winger up into that spot, like Jannik Hansen or Chris Higgins, but Mike Gillis and John Tortorella have preached giving youth a chance.
Shinkaruk isn’t the only young prospect vying for that spot, of course. Nicklas Jensen should be considered a favourite, given his experience playing against men in the Swedish Elite League last season and his strong play thus far in camp. Jordan Schroeder and Brendan Gaunce are both candidates to be third-line centre, but both have been discussed for a move to the wing, with Gaunce moving to the wing during the Young Stars Tournament.
It’s Shinkaruk that got the opportunity to start Monday’s game against the Sharks with Kesler and Burrows, though, scoring a gorgeous goal that quite literally brought fans in the crowd to tears. Granted, those fans were his parents.
It doesn’t get much more touching in hockey than seeing a dad get all choked up when his son scores his first quasi-NHL goal. Two seconds after the camera left his parents, tears exploded out of their eyes like they were characters in an anime.
I touched on this goal in the I Watched This Game, but it really deserves some more attention. Not for the shot, which is thoroughly fantastic, but for the way he used his skating and edge work to completely convince the defender and the goaltender that he was going to pass the puck to Yannick Weber. That’s part of why there was space for Shinkaruk to pick the top corner, as goaltender Alex Stalock was cheating towards the pass.
That defender was Matt Irwin, who played all but 10 games for the Sharks during the regular season and appeared in all 11 of their playoff games, while playing significant minutes, so it wasn’t an AHL or prospect defender. That edge work actually reminded me of Jeff Skinner, which is a nice comparison considering he was a very good competitive figure skater growing up.
With those quick feet, Shinkaruk could use a nickname, but Twinkle Toes seems a little derogatory and Mumble suggests that he’s hard to hear when he talks, which definitely isn’t true. Although I’m tempted to go with Hunter “S***kicker” Shinkaruk, which just has a nice ring to it, but isn’t appropriate for polite company.
How likely is it that Shinkaruk will get a chance to make the opening lineup? It’s a long shot, to be sure, but Booth’s questionable status gives him a better chance to at least get a nine-game audition before his entry-level contract kicks in. There are a few other reasons he may get a shot.
While scouting reports indicated that Shinkaruk is a fairly one-dimensional offensive player, his game is much more multifaceted than that. Despite his size, Shinkaruk plays a surprisingly physical game, throwing hits on the forecheck and using good body positioning to make up for what he lacks in strength.
He’s also a pain in the backside on the ice, making him effective as an agitator. This was more readily apparent during the Young Stars Tournament, but there was a hint of it against the Sharks as well. If he can score goals while simultaneously getting under the skin of his opponents, he could be a beneficial addition to the Canucks as early as this season.
If he does have defensive shortcomings, as most rookies do, playing with two of the best two-way forwards on the team, Burrows and Kesler, would certainly help make up for them. The only caveat there is that Kesler and Burrows are likely to be matched up against the opposition’s best offensive players, which would be a tough task for a raw rookie.
After the final Young Stars game, I made an observation regarding Shinkaruk and his fellow first-round pick: “While Canucks fans will love the way Shinkaruk plays, Canucks coaches will love the way Bo Horvat plays.” That remains true, which makes it hard to assess what the coaching staff thinks of Shinkaruk, as it’s hard to rein in the excitement when you watch him play in the offensive zone.
Of course, this is after just one preseason game, but over-analysis is what we do here at PITB.Tags: david booth, Hunter Shinkaruk, Preseason