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.”