PORTLAND — How does the player who led all of Canadian junior hockey in scoring last season manage to go undrafted by an NHL team?
If you’re Portland Pirates rookie center Brendan Shinnimin, it’s because of your size.
“At the time of his draft age obviously he was a smaller guy,” Phoenix Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving said. “There are guys almost every year who pass through (the draft).”
Shinnimin, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, is listed at 5-10, 180 pounds, on the Portland Pirates training camp roster.
Last season, while playing for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League, he scored 58 goals and had 76 assists to earn the league’s player of the year award.
“Obviously, in my mind, I thought I was good enough to be drafted,” Shinnimin said. “I understood why I was getting passed over. I needed some things to work on, and those are the things I really focused on.”
Shinnimin has blazing speed and he’s learned how to put it to good use.
“I was always quick in the corners,” he said, “but I needed to focus on my quick starts, lengthening out my strides and getting more strength in my legs. Those were some of the key things I needed to work on to get to the next level, and that’s what I did.”
The Coyotes, in their second season as the Pirates’ NHL parent, wanted to sign Shinnimin, who was ineligible for last June’s NHL entry draft because of his age, as a free agent last fall when he spent nearly a week at the Pirates’ training camp.
“I got to give him credit,” Treliving said. “We wanted to sign him, but he said, ‘no, I want to go back (to juniors) and try to earn an NHL contract,’ and he did.”
After last season, a number of NHL teams expressed interest in Shinnimin, but the Coyotes had the inside track.
“I had a few offers at the end of my 20-year-old year, but I really like the coaching staff and management in Phoenix,” he said. “They’re really great people, and that was a really key aspect for my choice. They really focus on development and the development of their players. This is the place I thought I had the best chance to continue my development and get to the NHL quickly.”
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The Pirates were on the ice for nearly three hours at the Portland Ice Arena on Monday, including a 45-minute intra-squad scrimmage.
“I like the way we work, and I like the way we compete,” Portland Pirates coach Ray Edwards said.
During the scrimmage, Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was paired with Mark Louis, who was signed to an amateur tryout contract by the Pirates out of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, last February, and rookie Justin Weller on alternate shifts. Other defensive pairings included rookie Brandon Gormley with David Rundblad, Chris Summers with Maxim Goncharov and Michael Stone with Mathieu Brodeur
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Left wing Tony Lucia was assigned to the Gwinnett Gladiators, the Coyotes’ ECHL affiliate in Georgia.
“Tony has had a history of concussions, so we just decided in this instance to send him to Gwinnett and not expose him to the risk of having further issues,” Edwards said.
Lucia, who spent last in the AHL playing for the Worcester Sharks, is the son of University of Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
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The AHL team isn’t expected to make any other moves until after Thursday’s scrimmage with the University of New Brunswick.
“They are a younger university team, and we’ll play our younger guys, too,” Edwards said. “These guys need to show us something. They’ve got to show us what they can do.”
The Pirates have 13 first-year pros in camp.