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Canucks' Shinkaruk ready to handle high expectations

by Aaron Vickers

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- Hunter Shinkaruk knows that entering his second year of professional hockey the heat on him will be turned up. So too will expectations.

Shinkaruk, chosen by the Vancouver Canucks with the No. 24 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, has already felt that weight.

"You kind of just read different things, see different things on Twitter, and people are wondering where you are and if you're going to be able to make the jump," Shinkaruk said at the Young Stars Classic, his third year in attendance. "I think the pressure has increased a little bit because people are waiting on that. Every year there's new first-round picks that are coming in and trying to take your spot. You have pressure, but I'd probably say the longer it goes, the more the pressure builds."

Since selecting Shinkaruk, the Canucks have bolstered their prospect pool with Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann, each first-round picks in the 2014 draft, and Brock Boeser, chosen with the 23rd pick in 2015. They also added Sven Baertschi, a first-round pick (No. 13) in 2011, by way of trade with the Calgary Flames.

Shinkaruk's place on the Canucks' depth chart has been increasingly scrutinized. So too has his development and, understandably, it has put pressure on the Calgary native. After showing positive signs in his first training camp with the Canucks, Shinkaruk sustained a torn labrum in his hip and had surgery on Jan. 7, 2014. The procedure followed a failed bid to crack Canada's roster at the IIHF World Junior Championship, limited Shinkaruk to 18 games and ended a major junior career that saw him score 105 goals and 235 points in 211 games.

A slow start with the Utica Comets, Vancouver's American Hockey League affiliate, followed after Shinkaruk turned pro last fall. He scored one goal in his first nine games and five in his next 33.

He heard the whispers again.

"Sometimes I read some things and for me, it's kind of like the guys that I was drafted with are back in junior, so had I been back there, it probably would've been a different story," Shinkaruk said. "Sometimes people forget about that. At the end of the day, when you're a first-round pick and you work hard to achieve that goal, there's going to be pressure for that. That's something you have to prepare yourself for and you can't really complain about it too much."

But the 5-foot-10, 181-pound forward hasn't stagnated.

The strides are there.

"The AHL is hard when you're a young guy coming into the league," said Travis Green, Shinkaruk's coach in Utica. "The strength issues, the pace, the getting into battles with bigger, stronger guys, but his attitude never wavered. He works extremely hard. He had a good progressive season last year. I don't think there's any major hurdle that he has to get over. I think it's just progressing like all young players need to do and making sure you don't stop progressing."

Shinkaruk too felt that growth, ending the 2014-15 regular season on a high note with nine goals in his final 16 games and four goals in 23 playoff games during the Comets' run to the Calder Cup Final. The way he completed his rookie year has Shinkaruk, who turns 21 on Oct. 13, optimistic about this season.

"The finish to my season is about as good as I finished any season in my life," he said. "You learn. Coming into this camp, I've played pro hockey now. I know what more to expect. You've got to look at it with a positive attitude, for sure.

"I have one goal and one mindset going in and that's to be on the opening night roster. We'll see what happens. I feel with the way I ended my season last year, I feel I'm ready for that jump and now it's up to me to show that."

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