Managing Expectations for Morgan Klimchuk

We’re going to be talking about expectations a lot this year, I think. Expectations can hurt or help, both on a team-wide or individual level. While the Calgary Flames will be dealing with raised expectations following their impressive 2014-15 season, they’ll be doing their best to keep things as tempered as possible for one of their more promising draft picks.

While he might have been toiling around outside the spotlight for the past couple seasons – with players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett cracking the NHL roster – keep an eye on 2013 first round pick Morgan Klimchuk as he embarks upon his first professional campaign.

Klimchuk would ordinarily be in a weird “perfect storm” of raised expectations. He’s a former first round pick, taken 28th overall in 2013. That pick was acquired in the trade that sent Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh, making Klimchuk part of a link in an asset chain that dates back (via Iginla, Joe Nieuwendyk and Kent Nilsson) back to the 1976 Draft. Those two factors, and that the Flames are roughly 30 months into their rebuild, should put the spotlight firmly on Klimchuk as he prepares for the 2015-16 season.

But it’s not.

You see, the Flames had two other picks in 2013. At sixth overall, they chose Sean Monahan, and he’s become a pretty decent center and went pro in 2013-14 (and has since become the leading goal-scorer in his draft year). At 22nd overall, they selected Emile Poirier, who went pro last season and impressed enough to become a fixture on Adirondack’s first line in the AHL (and got a few games in the NHL). When you factor in that 2011 pick Johnny Gaudreau was a Calder Trophy finalist and that 2014’s Sam Bennett made a big splash in the playoffs, suddenly hopes and prayers that Morgan Klimchuk turns into a strong pro in a hurry seem kind of silly.

That said, Klimchuk seems very focused on making the jump to the pro ranks. He’s 20-years-old and eligible to return to the Brandon Wheat Kings as an overage player, but roster moves made by the Wheaties in the off-season make it seem like they don’t expect him back.

“You have to set your expectations high. I’m pushing myself as hard as I can here,” said Klimchuk of his approach to training camp. “I’m pretty happy with how things are going but my goal is to play pro this year, so that’s what I’m working towards.”

In scrimmages during the first weekend of training camp, Klimchuk’s been paired with established NHLers Matt Stajan and David Jones. That may provide some clues regarding where the Flames see Klimchuk progressing, or at the very least a nice chance of getting to see how he looks alongside two key two-way players on the club. Klimchuk says he takes pride in being a good two-way player himself.

“I try to be a good player on both ends of the ice and I think I’ve shown in junior I’ve been able to put the puck in the net, but I mean, you’ve gotta be able to make that translate to the next level,” said Klimchuk. “But I think to make that immediate jump, being able to play in all three zones is something that coaches really, really appreciate from me and that’s something that I really try to focus on.”

Following Sunday’s practices and scrimmage at Winsport, Flames head coach Bob Hartley shared his assessment of his young forward’s first few days of camp.

“Klimmer’s having a good camp,” said Hartley. “I really liked his first
three days, I felt he skated well, he competed well, scored a goal
today. He’s a very smart player and he got much bigger. So, sometimes,
nevermind the first round pick or this, that’s only good the day of the
draft. I don’t attach any importance to this. It’s once you’re on the
ice you have to battle, and I really like what he’s doing.”

While praising Klimchuk, Hartley was quick to dismiss any labels that are placed on players such as first round picks (and the expectations those labels carry with them).

“They know it on the first day of camp,” said Hartley. “You know, look at our team: our
captain was never drafted. First round pick is you get a jersey and you
get a picture with the commissioner.”

For his part, Klimchuk seems are prepared as he can be. He put on close to 10 pounds in the off-season – his goal was to come into camp around 190 pounds and not lose his speed – and he seems well-studied in the adjustments to the higher level of hockey, partially a result of a four-game stint with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat at the tail-end of the 2013-14 season.

Laser-focused on playing professional hockey when camp breaks in a few weeks, seemingly the only thing left to be determined is where he plays.

“At the end of the day, my goal is to play pro this year,” said Klimchuk. “I’d love that to be with the big club. If management feels it’s best for me to go down, then I have no problem doing that.”

  • beloch

    In his pre-draft season, Klimchuk’s NHLE was a respectable 26.0. After being drafted, he improved to 31.9 in 2013/2014 and treaded water in 2014/2015 at 31.3. It does seem time for him to turn pro.

    While Klimchuk is probably not on most Flames fans’ radar screens, it’s instructive to consider how he’d rank in the Canucks’ prospect system. Hunter Shinkaruk had a similar peak in junior, but regressed significantly in his final junior season and struggled in the AHL last season, where his NHLE sank to 13.8. This is probably why ‘nucks fans have been far higher on Jake Virtanen this year. However, Virtanen’s peak NHLE was 25.0, so he is also a ways behind Klimchuk.

    So, Klimchuk would be the top prospect in the Canucks’ system, except perhaps for Baertschi. Baertschi had a remarkable NHLE of 45.6 in his final year of junior, which is well above Klimchuk. However, he hasn’t been able to translate his game to pro. In his first pro season his NHLE sank to 29.3, and it’s stayed there ever since. Last season his NHLE was 27.6. Baertschi shows that, for some players, the transition from junior to pro is a difficult and frustrating affair. He also shows that not every hot prospect improves every year. Some wind up running in place.

    So, what does this all mean? Klimchuk should be generating more excitement than he currently is. He’s an excellent prospect. However, turning pro is going to be a huge test for him. Will he transition to the AHL without his NHLE decreasing significantly as it did for Shinkaruk and Baertschi? If he gets a cup of coffee in the NHL, will he take advantage of it and, if he’s sent down, how will he respond? This will be a pivotal season for Klimchuk’s career!

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      I do think Klimchuk is under-rated. That being said, saying he would be ranked higher than Virtanen in the Canucks system is pushing it I think.

      Virtanen was picked higher because he was drafted for his upside, not just his NHLE. Virtanen’s combination of speed, size and skill is what sets him apart from Klimchuk and makes him more intriguing.

      Where Virtanen’s upside could be Lucic-ish, Klimchuk reminds me of Lee Stempniak… severicable… defensively responsible… can score a little… but not overly aggressive or physical.

      I do think it is closer than most Canuck fans think, as Klimchuk being under-rated offset by Virtanen being over-rated makes them closer, but if we had Virtanen in our system, I would still rank him higher than Klimchuk (for now anyways!). Nice write-up.

      • beloch

        Virtanen is 1″ taller than Klimchuk and slightly heavier. He was a big hitter in the young prospects tournament though, and notably flattened McDavid. So, would you rather have a prospect who can score more or a prospect who can hit more? Driving possession is probably more important, but we’ll likely have to wait a couple years to have those stats.

  • beloch

    He is the type of prospect to be patient on. We have a lot of players who made a step forward last year playing pro; some made huge steps and are now NHLers, others who are on the brink, others making progress and now it is time for some others to begin the journey. Good luck to the kid.

  • The Fall

    He is the type of prospect to be patient on. We have a lot of players who made a step forward last year playing pro; some made huge steps and are now NHLers, others who are on the brink, others making progress and now it is time for some others to begin the journey. Good luck to the kid.

  • supra steve

    I consider Virtanen a better prospect (at this time). Hockey Futures has his talent score as an 8.0, Klimchuk is a 7.0 on the same site. Virtanen played a significant roll at the World Jr. Tournament, Klimchuk has never participated.

    Would not be a total shock for Klimchuk to become a better pro then Virtanen, but at this time I think a lot of people in hockey would gladly trade Morgan for Jake, if given the chance.

    Plus Jake plays the right side vs. Morgan’s left side.

    • supra steve

      I like HF too but seriously question their ratings.

      Two cases in point:
      – In the 2014 NHL entry draft the Flames draft Mason MacDonald 34th overall, the first goal tender selected. Two picks later by the Canucks select Thatcher Demko. Hockey’s Future then rates MacDonald at 7.0 while Demko rated as at 8.0

      – In the 2013 draft the Flames draft Emile Poirier 22nd overall, followed two picks later by the Canucks selecting Hunter Shinkaruk. HF then rates Poirier at 7.0 while Shinkaruk is rated at 7.5

      In both cases the Flames had the opportunity to select the player eventually chosen by the Canucks. In both cases HF ranked the Canuck prospect considerably higher than the Flames selection.

      When talking about the goalie selection I remember Burke saying during one interview that the Flames had both goaltenders rated the same and in the end it was a coin toss as to who they took.

      So…bottom line I would take HF ratings with a big grain of salt…unless you’re from Vancouver..:)

        • supra steve

          Ultimately, any scouting service or team will rate and value players differently. I don’t think HF is any better than any other service, it’s just a site that I look at from time to time. I would love to look over Todd Button’s final player evals, but they’re just not that easy to access.

          I will stick by my assertion that if Van. offered BT Virtanen for Klimchuk, he would accept in a hurry.

          • piscera.infada

            I don’t think anybody’s saying “Klimchuk is a better prospect than Virtanen”. I agree with you, I would probably take Virtanen over Klimchuk if offered a pick between the two. Beloch simply said “we (as flames fans) should be more excited about Klimchuk, because many of his NHLe comparables are considered ‘exciting prospects'”. I would agree with that.

          • supra steve

            Beloch wrote

            ” Virtanen’s peak NHLE was 25.0, so he is also a ways behind Klimchuk. So, Klimchuk would be the top prospect in the Canucks’ system, except perhaps for Baertschi.”

            I have hopes that Klimchuk will be an impact top 6. But, as you agreed, Virtanen is the more valuable prospect, at least he is today.