Position: Left Wing
Weight: 194 lbs.
Drafted: 4th Round, 2010 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: 25
Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
Coming in at #16 in our Top 25 Under 25 is Justin Shugg, moving up nine spots from last year's rankings. It's a little surprising that the Hurricanes were able to get Shugg as late as they did in the 2010 draft because he was coming off a terrific season in juniors as a 17/18 year old and showed a lot of talent as a goal-scorer and a play-maker. Shugg did have some concerns at the time, though. One of them being that his 79-point season seemingly came out of nowhere and a lot of it related to him being linemates with Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique, two of the best young forwards in the NHL right now. It's easy to look at Shugg's season, compare it to past seasons and assume that good linemates was the reason why he racked up a lot of points that year, but those criticisms died down the following year.
With Hall & Henrique moving to the professionals and Shugg going to a different team, one would expect Shugg's numbers to fall off but they did the exact opposite. Shugg led Mississauga in points the following season and also scored nine goals to help the Majors reach the finals of the Memorial Cup that season. He also benefited from some strong teammates in Casey Cizikas and Devante Smith-Pelly, but I think Shugg did more than enough to prove that he isn't just a passenger and is perfectly capable of succeeding on his own.
Unfortunately, Shugg's professional career hasn't gotten off to the start everyone would hope as he has fell victim to injuries and the numbers game on multiple occasions. Shugg started both of the last two seasons in the ECHL because there wasn't any room in Charlotte for him to get top-six or top-nine minutes and he wiped the floor with the competition in both seasons. So much that he became one of Charlotte's first call-ups both years and Shugg really took advantage of his opportunities there. Moreso this season, as he scored at over a .5 PPG rate and appeared to make a lot of progress from the previous year.
However, injuries have kept Shugg from staying in the Checkers lineup for as long as he would have liked. He missed a lot of the 2011-12 season with an injury as well as a few games this year including one in the playoffs. It's unfortunately because Shugg's been a very impressive player for the Checkers and really seemed to work as a playmaker there, recording 14 assists in 39 games. Goal-scoring doesn't always translate from juniors to the professionals, especially if you're a smaller player, but Shugg has really good hands and is very creative with the puck, so it's good to see him thrive in at least one area while going up against bigger opponents.
What is to be said about Shugg's future, though? He is 21 and has only played a little over 70 games in the AHL while other players his age have gotten a taste of the NHL by now. I mentioned that staying healthy has been a problem for him, but I think the NHL lockout hurt him as well. He probably would have been in Charlotte for the entire season if it wasn't for the lockout causing a lot of NHL-ers to play in the AHL during the work stoppage and he wasn't the only player who suffered from this. It didn't take long for Shugg to get a call-up, though as he showed that he is too good for the AHL and the Checkers called him up after only 19 games there. So he is at least on the team's radar and he should be in the AHL for all of next season, barring no other signings.
Shugg may have some competition for a top-six or top-nine spot depending on which players make the Hurricanes and which ones are able to pass through waivers before returning to Charlotte. I think Shugg is ready for top-six minutes in the AHL, as he has produced at every level he has played in but other factors have kept him from reaching his full potential. The bad part about that is he still needs another year or two of playing in the minors before being ready for the NHL and he turns 22 this winter, so while he could have an NHL future, it might end up being with another team if the Hurricanes choose to let him walk after his entry-level deal expires next season.
That being said, I'm very interested to see what Shugg can do with a full season in the NHL because while his time there has been limited, he has also been very impressive. If he can stay healthy and play as well as he did in past seasons, then he might get on the Hurricanes call-up list and receive a shot sooner than we think. Of course, staying healthy and consistent have been his biggest issues since leaving juniors, so his career could go either way at this point.