THE CANADIAN PRESS
KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON — If there was a lesson on perseverance, Brendan Shinnimin would be an honour student.
The Tri-City Americans forward, who came into the Western Hockey League as an undrafted player, recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.
"It’s really exciting. It’s something you dream about as a kid to sign an NHL contract," Shinnimin said. "It’s been a long road not being drafted, being a smaller player and being overlooked, even in the bantam draft. It’s exciting when that pays off."
The 21-year-old from Winnipeg, who attended the New York Rangers rookie camp in 2010, skated with the Coyotes’ rookies last fall and was invited to the main camp before being assigned to the AHL’s Portland Pirates.
Phoenix offered him an AHL contract but he turned it down.
"They told me to go back and work hard," Shinnimin said. "It’s good that they believed in me."
The five-foot-10, 180-pound Shinnimin has made believers of many people, He leads the WHL in scoring with 120 points — the most in the league since Justin Mapletoft had 120 points for Red Deer during the 2000-’01 season. Shinnimin finished February with 23 goals and 20 assists in 14 games and was named the league’s player of the month.
"You look back at it and I probably couldn’t do it again if I tried," Shinnimin said of February’s output. "You come to the rink every day prepared, and good things happen.
"Coming down the stretch, I will play the same way and hope good things continue to happen."
Tri-City coach Jim Hiller said Shinnimin won Phoenix over at training camp.
"They saw what we all see," Hiller said. "I’m sure the 43 points (in February) helped, but I think they intended to track him when he came back to Tri-City.
"For me, one word sums him up — determination. He is determined to be a good player. I’d put my money on him."
Shinnimin has a 10-point lead on Portland’s Ty Rattie in the race for the Bob Clarke Trophy, given annually to the league’s leading scorer. The only Tri-City player to win the award was Daymond Langkow in 1994-’95 when he recorded 140 points.
So far this season, Shinnimin has 54 goals. He is the first Tri-City player to reach the 50-goal plateau since Dylan Gyori had 53 during the 1998-’99 season.
"That speaks to his teammates more than anything," Hiller said. "To achieve those levels, you need good players around you."
Linemates Adam Hughesman (104 points) and Patrick Holland (101 points) have certainly also got in on the fun. This marks the first time since 1991-’92 that Tri-City has had three players with 100 or more points in the same season.
"I used to score a lot of goals and have a lot of fun when I was younger," Shinnimin said. "That’s how I’ve been approaching this — we work hard, but have some fun."
Shinnimin, who grew up playing with current teammates Hughesman and Mason Wilgosh in the Manitoba capital, was bypassed in the 2006 bantam draft when the Americans selected Hughesman in the second round. But afterwards the Americans added him to their protected list and kept him there, thus making Shinnimin a list player.
Shinnimin was invited to the Americans’ camp at age 16, but was sent to the Selkirk Steelers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to get more playing time.
The following season as a rookie, Shinnimin had to bring his best every day to catch the eye of then coach Don Nachbaur. It took a while but he soon found his niche.
"I played the home opener, then only played a couple of the next eight games," he said. "I knew I had to do something to stay in the lineup.
"Once I stuck in the lineup, I never looked back. I really paid attention to the little details Don implemented and took advantage of it."
Shinnimin finished his rookie season with 12 goals and 13 assists with a plus-9 rating in 64 games. The following year he recorded 27 goals and 82 points before accumulating 34 goals and 96 points last season to be named a Western Conference second-team all-star.
"We’ve seen him get better and better," Hiller said. "There is a fire inside of him that won’t burn out anytime soon. That is a great quality to have."