A local boy drafted in the sixth round by the Canucks, Stukel has had to overcome a lot of adversity just to get to this point in his career.
Three years ago, he had just finished up a successful year of midget and had already played some WHL games as an underage player. Drafted 37th overall at the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, the Vancouver Giants were eager to see what they had in him. They got him into six games as a 15-year-old and he didn’t disappoint, scoring two goals and adding two assists. It was now time for him to enter the major junior ranks as a 16-year-old with his hometown team.
The problem is, that season would never happen. While playing football with friends during the off-season, Stukel’s leg got twisted and gave out. Game over. It was a torn ACL. That all-important first season of junior hockey had vanished. No feeling out stage the season before his draft year. No World Under-17 Challenge.
“It was really tough,” said Stukel. “That is the year you want to get used to playing junior. Having that knee injury was definitely devastating, but I think I battled through it pretty hard. I spent a lot of time in the gym and really got a chance to focus on my body and get a lot stronger.”
The Surrey, BC product was determined to come back even better and play a big role for the Giants. It looked like that was how things were shaping up through the pre-season and into the start of the regular season. He had two points in his first two games, but then broke his thumb. It sidelined him for almost two months.
“That set me back and once I returned to the lineup I wasn’t really being played where I would like to have been,” said Stukel. “I actually had a really strong end to that season and was looking to build on that this past season but it didn’t really happen with the Giants. Once I got traded to Calgary, things really started to change.”
And did things ever change. He had just four points (2-2-4) in 12 games with the Giants before being dealt to the Hitmen. It was in Calgary that for the first time since midget hockey he had his game back, scoring 34 goals and 56 points in 57 games.
“It was the change of scenery and I got to play top minutes once I got to Calgary,” said Stukel. “It took me about five games to get used to the new surroundings and my new teammates, but once I got going I was playing top minutes and getting a chance on the power play.”
The success in Calgary led him to believe an NHL team would call his name come June. There was a little bit of chatter of him going in the 2015 NHL Draft, but that never came to be. This time around, teams couldn’t ignore the numbers he was putting up.
On June 25, he got a phone call that would change his life, although he doesn’t remember much of the conversation. The thought of speaking with one of his childhood idols while also finding out he was drafted by his hometown team was a lot to take in.
“I was sitting at home watching on TV and got a text from one of buddies, then a phone call from Trevor Linden,” said Stukel, who grew up idolizing Linden and Markus Naslund, along with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. “I actually can’t remember much about the call, just that it was Trevor Linden. Getting a phone call from him was definitely pretty special.”
Just to get to this point in his career, the 6-foot, 182-pound Stukel has had to work extremely hard and overcome a lot. But now the real work begins. He wants to build off the season he just had and develop his game into a more pro-ready form.
“I need to work on my defensive game next season,” said Stukel. “I think my offensive game is pretty good, but I think the last five minutes of the game is the most important part. I want to be relied on at all times, whether it is going out and blocking a shot, getting the puck out or just the little things that coaches look at.
“It’s good to put up numbers, but people look at your all-around game, so that’s one thing I am really going to work on.”