Compared to other recent first round picks, Morgan Klimchuk had a rather low-key, quiet pro debut.
Fellow 2013 picks Sean Monahan and Emile Poirier spent time in the National Hockey League in their first pro seasons. So did Sam Bennett. But Klimchuk played four American Hockey League games and got injured early in the season, missed about a month, and spent the bulk of the year in a complementary role in the minors.
Is there a risk that Klimchuk – the last organizational piece left from the decades-long Kent Nilsson-Joe Nieuwendyk-Jarome Iginla transaction chain and the 18th-ranked prospect in this year’s FlamesNation Prospect Rankings – could fall by the wayside? He was our fifth-ranked player last season.
A brief history
Klimchuk was a pretty well-regarded junior player, playing a strong 200-foot game in the Western Hockey League with the Regina Pats and (briefly) the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was drafted by the Flames in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, 28th overall, with the pick they acquired from Pittsburgh in the Jarome Iginla trade.
Post-draft, Klimchuk had a couple strong seasons – 74 points with Regina in his draft+1 year and 80 points split between Regina and Brandon in his draft+2, which included a trip to the WHL Championship series. If you wanted to sum up Klimchuk’s junior career in a single phrase, he’d probably be “a better version of Max Reinhart.” He’s hardly big, but his hockey intelligence and mobility was good enough in junior that he made everyone better around him.
Read more: Managing Expectations for Morgan Klimchuk
He went pro in the 2015-16 season, and things were a bit uneven. He was injured during the team’s first long road trip through Texas when he caught a rut in the ice – and anybody will tell you that lower-body injuries like that tend to linger. When he returned to the roster, he put up nine points in 55 games. He didn’t play a ton, as the only regular Stockton forwards with less estimated time-on-ice per game were Blair Riley, Mitchell Heard and Hunter Smith.
Future Considerations scout Scott Wheeler noted he was a bit surprised by Klimchuk’s secondary role for much of this season with the Heat given his success in junior.
While Klimchuk didn’t put up big numbers last season, Stockton Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska shared that he thought his first pro season was successful.
“I think Morgan’s year went
well and I think the real challenges that he faces, or faced,
everyone expects numbers from him. The jump from junior to the
American Hockey League is a big jump, and I think probably if you
were to ask him it’s a lot harder league than he was expecting.”
Despite the challenges in putting points on the board, Huska praised Klimchuk’s ability to adapt and learn the AHL game.
think the one great thing about Morgan is he’s a real student of the
game. He’s a very detailed guy, and I think for a coach, you know
what you’re getting out of him all the time. He’s very responsible,
he’s very disciplined with how he plays the game, and as the year
progressed for us I really did trust him in a lot of different
situations. I know the numbers
will start to increase as we move forward, but he’s also made himself
a very reliable guy away from the puck and a guy that I trust against
What comes next?
The bad news is that Klimchuk didn’t set the scoresheet on fire in 2015-16. The good news is that he’s earned the trust of his coaching staff by being a responsible 200-foot player, he’s hopefully figured out the nuances of the AHL style of play, and (most importantly) the Flames jettisoned a lot of forwards from the minor-pro system over the summer.
For a 21-year-old left-shooting forward, seeing the Heat lose Kenny Agostino, Drew Shore, Turner Elson, Derek Grant, Bill Arnold, Mason Raymond and Bryce van Brabant will open up a big door for Klimchuk to get increased playing time and to see the ice in offensive scenarios. With the Heat without the vast majority of their established offensive weapons, the hope is that Klimchuk can step up and become a reliable offensive player for the team in 2016-17.
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