Medicine Hat Tigers standout Hunter Shinkaruk wasn’t about to mince words.
With the regular season of his draft year winding to a close, the Calgary, AB product wasn’t necessarily pleased with his goal total.
Until you consider Shinkaruk hit 49 as a 17-year-old a year ago riding shotgun to Anaheim Ducks rookie Emerson Etem.
“Coming into this year – I’m not going to lie – I wanted to get 50 goals,” Shinkaruk said. “Sometimes that’s just not going to happen. You just have to be the best player you can every night. I can’t complain about how my season’s gone. At the end of the day, you still want to get 50 and it’s kind of tough that probably won’t happen.”
Though Shinkaruk fell short of his lofty run at 50, he accomplished a bigger goal – development. Shinkaruk started the season by taking the Tigers’ captaincy and parlayed that into rounding into a more complete player.
“There were a lot of expectations coming in as captain and I feel I’ve done that,” he said. “Every time I come into a year, my main focus is just becoming a better player on both sides of the puck. I feel this year my defensive side has been better and even just being a better leader. My game as a whole is coming around and obviously my offense has still been there.”
Many wondered if that offense would be there without Etem, who scored 61 goals and 107 points in his final year of Major Junior. Shinkaruk admitted it was strange not sharing a line with the Long Beach, CA product.
“It’s a little bit different,” Shinkaruk said. “He’s such an exciting player. I thought our speed really countered off each other. Obviously we had a great year last year. It’s obviously tough having Emerson leave but I’m not going to complain with my new linemate.”
That linemate is Curtis Valk, who led the Tigers with 46 goals and 91 points.
“He’s having an unbelievable season, leading our team in points,” Shinkaruk said. “I can’t say enough about how well he’s played and fit in.”
Running with Valk, the lessons from Etem have stuck with the five-foot-11, 175-pound Shinkaruk.
Namely, how to approach the opposition with a target on your back.
“I think that it’s not something I’ve tried to let bother me,” he said. “If I get a cheap shot, there’s a chance I’m going to try to get a lick on someone later in the game. That’s a part of hockey. I’ve had to deal with it all this year. Emerson taught me how to deal with it last year. I learned from him last year and I really can’t complain.”
Shinkaruk will get more than an opportunity to practice what Etem preached. He’ll have a bulls-eye on the back of his jersey when the Tigers square off against the Memorial Cup-bound Saskatoon Blades in the first round of the WHL Playoffs.
It’s a chance to erase any doubt about his decreased production, too.
“I’ve always looked at the top-end players and they always play so much better in the huge games,” Shinkaruk said. “That’s something I’ve worked on my whole life. Going into the playoffs, I know I’m going to be relied upon heavily and checked pretty hard too.”
He didn’t mince words about that either.
“I can’t wait.”