Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

For Hunter Shinkaruk, last shot at Team Canada juniors justifies playing hurt

Hunter Shinkaruk believes he made a point prior to arriving a Team Canada's selection camp, even though the ethos of the whole exercise is that everyone is starting at zero.

Hockey Canada cutting down to a 25-player camp has reduced a lot of uncertainly about who will be around on Boxing Day when the country's obsessed-over team of teenagers opens the IIHF world U20 championship in Malmo, Sweden. There is some mystery with where Shinkaruk fits. The Medicine Hat Tigers captain has been a proven scorer since he bagged 49 goals during his sophomore season in the Western Hockey League and he also lasted until the final cut with the Vancouver Canucks this fall.

The more complicated part of the narrative is that the 19-year-old has sustained hip and shoulder injuries this fall. Plus there was the juxtaposition at the NHL draft. Shinkaruk was one of the prospects whom the NHL had doing the media whirl, a treat usually saved for surefire top-10 picks, yet he stayed on board until Vancouver took him at No. 24.

In any event, after being a late cut from the ill-fated 2013 squad, Shinkaruk at least has a clean bill of health.

"Playing through injuries wasn’t fun, but it was something that I felt like I wanted to do because I wanted to get an invite to try to make this team," said Shinkaruk, who's only played in 18 of the Tigers' 31 games. "I took some time off to rehab my body and get it to 100 per cent. I feel good now. It’s my last kick at the can now."

During Friday's first team practice at the MasterCard Centre, Shinkaruk was at left wing on a de facto top line of with two fellow Canadian NHL team prospects, Winnipeg Jets-drafted centre Nic Petan and Ottawa Senators first-rounder Curtis Lazar. A keen observer might have wondered if that could also be a comment on the absence of Quebec League dynamo Jonathan Drouin. The 18-year-old Drouin, who is recovering from a mild brain injury caused from a hit from behind on Nov. 29, played left wing during his first two junior seasons before shifting to centre this fall after the Tampa Bay Lightning returned him to the Halfiax Mooseheads.

One refrain with coach Brent Sutter is that the final roster could include as many as nine natural centres. The competition for the scoring-line spots is fierce. That puts a spotlight on Shinkaruk, to see whether he can recapture the peak potential he's shown when healthy.

"I felt great when I was in Vancouver, I felt great when I came back in October," he said. "My first six games in Medicine Hat I had 10 points. I got hit awkwardly in a game against Portland. I have played through that until now. Then I got hit from behind in one of our other games.

"Now it probably feels the best it has since a few games after Vancouver."

Sutter has no set deadline on cuts. So everything is kind of vague. The coach did talk about how he would like to fill the 13th-forward slot, but that's not necessarily a solid as oak commitment to not take eight defencemen on the final roster.

"It's nice to have a guy that’s just not a natural one-position type guy," he said. "He can play in different situations, He can fit into certain roles if you get into injury troubles. Be a good penalty killer. Get some minutes that he may not get 5-on-5. Usually you don’t use a guy like that on the power play. As you can tell, it’s a pretty unique group of 25 guys."

It's open to question how that might apply to an offensive-oriented talent such as Shinkaruk or QMJHL scoring leader Anthony Mantha, who has 73 points in 35 games. All it can really mean in Shinkaruk is taking nothing for granted.

"We have basically two days to solidify our spot or bump someone out if that’s how the coaches are looking at it," he said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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