As captain for the Medicine Hat Tigers, forward Hunter Shinkaruk doesn't consider himself to be the loudest guy in the locker room.
He prefers getting his point across in other ways.
"Every day when I come to the rink, I want to make sure I'm the best player in practice … enhancing my game and being a good example to my teammates in the process," Shinkaruk told NHL.com.
Shinkaruk's passion for the game is contagious, no doubt. The smile on his face each time he steps on the ice is as palpable as the determined effort he'll provide each and every shift during a game.
"Every time I'm at the rink I'm in a positive mood and I just love to be out there, and I think that type of attitude really rubs off on my teammates," he said. "I'm always trying to make sure that I'm the best to kind of set a standard for the younger guys to feed off. Even though I'm wearing the 'C', we have a great locker room full of leaders and we all help each other."
Shinkaruk proving worth minus Etem
Hunter Shinkaruk is proving this year he's perfectly capable of holding his own despite the absence of former linemate and NHL first-round draft pick Emerson Etem.
Following an impressive rookie campaign with the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers in 2010-11, when he struck for 42 points in 63 games, Shinkaruk erupted for 49 goals and 91 points alongside the exceptionally skilled Etem in 2011-12.
It was also a career year for Etem, who connected for 61 goals and 107 points last season for the Tigers. He was ultimately selected No. 29 by the Anaheim Ducks at the 2010 NHL Draft.
"Having Emer was unbelievable … he went through the draft process and he talked to me about it and told me that if something goes really well, that you can't get too high and you have to stay at an even keel," Shinkaruk told NHL.com. "He taught me work ethic because he was always in the gym before and after practice. You see a guy like that, who is physically strong, and you begin to understand what you need to do to be NHL-ready."
He realizes NHL scouts and general managers are looking for a significant drop-off in production.
"I knew coming into the year that would be the question about my game … was my success last year solely because of him," Shinkaruk said. "Emerson helped me a lot last year and was a great teammate, but I made sure I got a lot stronger and quicker over the summer to help myself be that guy that Emerson was last year."
Medicine Hat coach Shaun Clouston feels Shinkaruk has proven to be a pretty formidable offensive force this year despite the loss of Etem.
"This is definitely more of a challenging year, with the number of rookies in the lineup, and there are lots of nights that aren't that easy," Clouston said. "Hunter commands a lot of attention and we're a much better team when he's in the lineup. He's had to work for everything he's gotten this year, that's for sure."
Shinkaruk admits he is as confident as he's ever been this season.
"I've been confident in my game this year … I think I've been that guy and it's been nice to answer those questions," he said.
Shinkaruk added 10 pounds over the summer and entered camp at 5-foot-10.25, 181 pounds.
"I can still improve and have an even better season this year without Emer," he said. "I made great strides in the gym and on the ice. I feel confident in my game."
Since being sidelined five games with a lower-body injury, Shinkaruk has produced two goals and six assists over five games, and is currently second on the team with 19 goals and 43 points.
-- Mike G. Morreale
Medicine Hat head coach Shaun Clouston is a witness to Shinkaruk's love for hockey each and every day.
"Whether it's a practice, game or workout, he rarely doesn't have a smile on his face," Clouston said. "He doesn't take anything for granted and is a great example to the younger guys."
That's important, too, particularly since Medicine Hat has a league-high 11 first-year players in the lineup.
Make no mistake, the 18-year-old center is the sparkplug to the engine. In 29 games for Medicine Hat this season, Shinkaruk is averaging 1.48 points. He has 19 goals, 43 points and a plus-2 rating despite being in the cross-hairs of every opposing coach devising a game plan. He also has 16 points on the power play and a team-high two game-winning goals.
Not surprisingly, the 5-foot-10.25, 181-pound Shinkaruk is considered the No. 2-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings for players in the Western Hockey League. Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, who could very well go No. 1 at the 2013 NHL Draft, is the league's top-rated skater.
"As soon as he touches the puck, people in the stands want to stand up and say, 'Here he goes.' … This kid is really exciting to watch," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "As soon as he touches the puck you go, 'Wow, this is great.'"
Shinkaruk is one of only three forwards -- Morgan Klimchuk of Regina and Curtis Lazar of Edmonton being the others -- to rank among the top 10 players from the WHL.
"The first thing I thought to myself when I saw the rankings was that there's one spot ahead of me, so every day I go to the rink or the gym, my goal is to be the No. 1 guy," Shinkaruk said.
Despite his frame, Shinkaruk enjoys going up against the top-ranked defensive prospects in the league. It's not unusual to find the WHL offering a heavy dose of high-caliber defensemen to choose from at each NHL Draft. Central Scouting ranks three defensemen among the top 10 in the Ontario Hockey League, one from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and five from the United States Hockey League.
"There are great defenders in our league and, personally, I feel lucky to be able to go up against the likes of Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart and Seth Jones … guys who were drafted very high or who will be drafted high," Shinkaruk said. "I never want to make excuses because when I reach the NHL level, I'll be going against guys like Zdeno Chara, so I feel lucky that the league helps me adjust to the kind of player I'll have to go up against down the road."
Shinkaruk did admit that Reinhart has been the toughest to play against in his three seasons in the league.
"He's a big kid and really smart," he said. "You really have to work hard against him to earn your space."
In addition to serving as an alternate captain for Team Orr -- Jones was named captain -- in the 2013 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 16, Shinkaruk was thrilled to learn he was one of 37 players invited to Hockey Canada's World Junior Championship selection camp in Calgary, Dec. 11-13.
Shinkaruk is one of four 2013 draft-eligible players invited to the camp, including Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and Ottawa 67's center Sean Monahan. Kamloops Blazers forward J.C. Lipon, passed over in the previous two drafts, is also eligible to be selected in 2013.
"There's going to be a competition between guys of this draft class," Shinkaruk said. "We want to prove we're the best undrafted players at this camp. I just want to make sure I'm the best player and the competition will certainly push me to make that team."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale