I’d like to believe that in this photo, Klimchuk was just approached by a ghost from the future. In this shot, the ghost shows Morgan his stat line from this past season.
This was not a great year for Morgan Klimchuk in terms of counting numbers. That much is certain. But perhaps there is more to Klimchuk’s first professional season than meets the eye. Let’s dive into the mantlepiece of the Jarome Iginla deal after the jump!
There’s really no way to hide the fact that Klimchuk had a rough year in Stockton in terms of his offensive production. After a junior career that saw Klimchuk score 267 points and 118 goals (1.02ppg over five seasons), he managed just nine points this season in 55 games played this season past and, if you include a brief stint two seasons ago, has just the nine points in 59 AHL games played. Markus Granlund tied him in points this season for the Stockton Heat, which, if you told me that heading into the season I’d have been thrilled, but Granlund played 43 less games than Klimchuk.
So you don’t have to be Bill James to see that Klimchuk’s output has been… less than stellar. Especially for a player who was able to pile up points in junior. Let’s have a listen to what was said about him on draft day:
As you can hear, his goal-scoring and play-making are specifically mentioned as some of Klimchuk’s strengths and his numbers in junior back that up. However, maybe it’s unfair to constantly refer to his draft profile; the player that Klimchuk is now might now live up to those expectations but that doesn’t mean that he won’t become an NHLer one day. Just that he might not be much of a goal scorer by the time he gets there.
But perhaps Klimchuk was just enormously unlucky this season? Maybe he fired a ton of shots on net every night and just wasn’t rewarded? Let’s have a look at how his production fared among Heat forwards who played a minimum of 35 games (excluding Derek Grant who only played 33 but is amazing).
I separated the two into two peer groups based on production and I can bet you can guess which group Klimchuk ended up in:
GROUP 1 (THE COOL CATZ)
Those are some of the numbers I used for Kenny Agostino’s player evaluation and I used some of the top-performers on the Heat this season to take a look at him. Just throwing Klimchuk into this group wouldn’t have made a lot of sense given his performance. So, here is the second peer group:
GROUP 2: (AND THE REST)
As you can see, Klimchuk’s shot production was pretty miserable this season, despite the fact that he often played with some of the Heat’s best players. Klimchuk often played on a line with Emile Poirier and in many of the games I saw was given special teams opportunities as well.
You might notice that Klimchuk’s numbers are most similar to Hunter Smith and Austin Carroll’s and one thing that they all have in common is that they’re AHL rookies. Perhaps that might be the most telling part of Klimchuk’s statistical season, but we’ll get into that a bit later.
WHAT KIND OF PLAYER IS HE?
This is one of the most intriguing questions regarding Morgan Klimchuk: what exactly is he? Clearly, given his production in junior, Klimchuk has the ability to produce offence, though he has not shown it as a pro so far. It is exceedingly likely that when the Flames drafted him in the first round, they weren’t projecting him to be a >0.5 ppg player in the AHL.
However, in the viewings I had of him this season, it was difficult to nail down exactly what Klimchuk does well, though he seems to be pretty good at most things. Often, Klimchuk was referred to as a “swiss army knife” of a player for the Heat. Though, I’m not sure how encouraging that is for Flames fans who want to see him in the NHL one day. There is no doubt that Klimchuk works his tail off and was called upon to kill penalties every night for Stockton. There is definite value in a player that can do that, especially coming off of the season that the Flames just had.
However, those who have seen him play a lot more might have a different interpretation of Klimchuk’s season and are much more optimistic about how he projects long term. For example, here’s what Heat play-by-play announcer Brandon Kisker had to say about Klimchuk’s play this season:
I admit, I was less than impressed early on with Morgan. He looked out of place and for a first round pick, he just looked like he couldn’t keep up.
Now a lot of that had to do with a couple of injuries sustained in the early parts of the season.
He’ll always be compared with Emile Poirier, now Hunter Shinkaruk, and countless others of that first round in 2013, however, I must admit, toward the end of the season I really think Morgan was one of our best players and looks like he’ll translate extremely well to the next level.
Now what you may be getting at the NHL level might not be a scoring force like he was in junior (however I’m really anticipating a far better offensive season from him in year two), but what I can without a doubt say is that he’ll be the best two way player on the Flames in a few seasons.
Coach always used the word “safe” when describing Klimmer and while he might not be a complete fan of that word, that word has put many players in the NHL.
I think it’s too early to write off Klimchuk as an offensive threat though. He roomed with Turner Elson and I think took a lot of the great habits that Elson has. Hard work, focus, tenacity, determination, leadership, etc…
I truly believe next year will be a bounce-back offensive season and I also think that even with newfound success offensively, he will still be that same “safe” player.I think he’s a bonafide NHL prospect that I’ve likened to Dan Paille. A cup winner. A solid penalty killer. A guy who contributes both on and off the scoresheet.
I’ve come a complete 180 on Klimchuk since the beginning of the year and I’m a believer in this kid. He knows the pressure to perform offensively will always be on him, but not every member of a Stanley Cup winning team scored 30 goals a season; however to those who write him off after looking at his stats during his first pro season can take it from the guy who watched him in all 55 games he played, that his first pro season was a success.
I do not have enough good things to say about this kid both on and off the ice.
Brandon’s praise for Klimchuk’s intangibles echo the sentiments of the Flames scouting staff when they drafted him in 2013. Clearly, he is a hard worker/good person but that isn’t going to be enough for him to make it to the show. I am not so sure about Brandon’s “Best two way player on the Flames” projection, but I suppose anything’s possible. Bottom line: I am prepared to completely write this season off as an extended learning experience for Klimchuk but next year looms large for him.
The Flames will graduate Andrew Mangiapane likely into Stockton next year, joining Daniel Pribyl and Brett Pollock as three pretty solid point-producers heading into their AHL rookie seasons. Presently, though Klimchuk is younger than most in Stockton, he is likely below Kenny Agostino, Freddie Hamilton, Drew Shore, Hunter Shinkaruk, Garnet Hathaway, Emile Poirier, (maybe) Mark Jankowski?!?!?, and possibly Turner Elson as well (as evidenced by his late-season call up) in terms of the Flames depth chart. As such, Klimchuk’s odds of seeing NHL ice will diminish considerably if he cannot substantially improve his production next season in Stockton.