The kids are alright in Calgary.
Cowtown is the hotspot for 2013 NHL draft talent with four prospects in the first-round mix: Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk, Prince Albert Raiders puck-moving defenceman Josh Morrissey, Swift Current Broncos shutdown blueliner Dillon Heatherington, and Regina Pats skilled winger Morgan Klimchuk.
Ranked sixth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service, it seems Shinkaruk leads the way among the Calgary quartet. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound forward gained hype in his second season in Medicine Hat, tallying 49 goals and 91 points in 66 games in a 1-2 punch with Anaheim Ducks prospect Emerson Etem. This year, without Etem by his side, Shinkaruk couldn’t quite match his sophomore season’s point total with 37 goals and 86 points in 64 games. To his defence, he did have to overcome nagging minor injuries throughout the season, though.
“It seemed as soon as I started going on a roll, I’d have to deal with an injury,” says Shinkaruk. “I would have liked to have done more, but the circumstances made it hard to.”
Shinkaruk’s well-beyond-his-years maturity is the one of the most appealing aspects about him. The Tigers’ captain has made a strong reputation for himself as a team player who goes above and beyond to make younger players comfortable in Medicine Hat’s dressing room.
“I really liked being captain,” says Shinkaruk. “I like helping out the rookies and just being a leader young players can look to.”
Klimchuk broke out into a star in second season in Regina, doubling his rookie point total and then some this year with 36 goals and 76 points in 72 games.
"I was more comfortable this year, knowing what to expect from last year," says Klimchuk, who is ranked 25th by NHL Central Scouting. "I felt I had more patience with the puck. I think I was better in puck battles, too. This helped me around the net and along the wall."
The “soft” label on Klimchuk has held him out of the top-20 rankings. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, however, has shown improvement in his grit along the wall and in front of the net this year.
“I wanted to play with more of an edge in my second year with the Pats,” says Klimchuk. “I tried to be more physical and play with more willingness to get into the dirty areas to score goals and create scoring opportunities this year. That’s still something I’m working on.”
Morrissey, who scored 15 goals and 47 points in 70 games, is known for being a slick puck-moving blueliner. But the 6-foot, 184-pounder feels he’s far from a one-trick pony.
"I'm a two-way player,” says Morrissey, who is ranked 27th by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I pride myself on my defensive play. Some guys think just because you are good offensively that you can't be good defensively. But I think I excel at both ends of the ice."
Similar to Shinkaruk, Morrissey has garnered draft chatter beyond this year. He started to truly turn heads, including Washington Capitals star defenceman Mike Green, last year as a 16-year-old.
"First time he skated with my pro group (with Calgary-based training centre Crash Conditioning), Capitals’ Mike Green called me as he left the dressing room raving about this kid in PA Raiders gear, that kid, a 16-year-old Josh Morrissey, I think he even called Caps GM George Mcphee right after,” says Doug Crashley, president of Crash Conditioning.
Heatherington, meanwhile, has made a name for himself as a shutdown defenceman. The 6-foot-4, 196-pounder, who scored four goals and 27 points in 71 games, is Broncos GM-head coach Mark Lamb’s player of choice to anchor his back end on the penalty kill and in the last minutes of a game to hold a lead.
“I’m a shutdown defenceman,” says Heatherington, who is ranked 31st by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I try to keep it simple and make it hard for players to stand around the front of the net and along the boards.”
All four of the draft prospects have crossed paths and gotten to know each other in some capacity through minor hockey, ball hockey, and offseason training. Morrissey and Shinkaruk have seemed to develop the closest friendship of the quartet, though.
"Hunter and I played bantam together and we became pretty good friends," says Morrissey, referring to the Medicine Hat Tigers left wing. "We only live like five minutes apart in Calgary so we know each other pretty well.”
“I’m good friends with Morrissey,” adds Shinkaruk. “We grew up not that far apart from each other and became good friends.”
Morrissey has also become close with Klimchuck by working out with him at Crash Conditioning in Calgary.
“Josh and I have become pretty good friends,” says Klimchuk. “We train with crash conditioning and have gotten to know each other through that. We also knew each other before that with minor hockey.”
There is definitely a chance one or more of the four could play pro hockey in Calgary sooner than later with the Flames holding three first-round picks. This would be a dream come true for three of the four – Morrissey, Heatherington, and Klimchuk. Shinkaruk, however, grew up a Dallas Stars fan. Although he gave the “right answer” by saying he would be ‘happy to go to any team,’ it’s only logical to assume he is hoping the Stars pick him with their 10th overall pick.
It isn’t much of a surprise to see elite talent come out of Calgary. The city is after all the home of Mike Green, Ottawa Senators blueliner Chris Phillips, and Minnesota Wild prospect/Red Deer Rebels star Matthew Dumba. But the 2013 crop appears to be Cowtown’s strongest group of prospects in recent memory.
Ross MacLean, the head scout of International Scouting Services who resides in Calgary, believes Hockey Canada’s heavy involvement in Calgary is a major reason for the city’s uncanny success at developing high-end prospects.
“The fact is, we should always see a lot of high-end prospects from Calgary every year,” says MacLean. “While many cities offer tremendous resources, few can come close to matching the sort of hockey development resources that are available in Calgary. From the Flames and Hitmen, to the Olympic legacy facilities, to the outdoor facilities the city can provide all winter long and the countless number of former pro players running camps and schools, there are lots of unique resources to the city for hockey players. Perhaps the biggest advantage Calgary provides is that is the HQ for Hockey Canada and the staff is quite active and involved at getting out to work with minor hockey players and coaches in the area. With so many resources, players have a ton of options to find growth opportunities and the most passionate ones can find ways to separate themselves from the pack.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen