Morgan Klimchuk will always have big boots to fill. Being the guy who was traded for Jarome Iginla, he has most often been the butt of the joke that was post-apex Jay Feaster management.
While Sean Monahan dazzled in the NHL and Emile Poirier was lighting lamps in the Q, Klimchuk plodded along in the Dub. He probably was the least impressive of the 2013 first rounders, struggling to find his place among the WHL’s best. At the same time, Monahan was scoring 60 in the NHL and Poirier was being named an AHL all-star in his first year of pro. His unimpressive WHL stint turned into a disappointing AHL stint, with nine points in 55 games during his first full try in the league. Many, probably everyone, thought he was done.
That’s why it’s such a shock to see people clammoring for him to be called up, or to have no choice but to acknowledge him as one of the best prospects in the organization right now. Morgan Klimchuk has broken last year’s records for points and goals in 48 fewer games. How did he turn the corner?
The 2016-17 season began almost the same as the last one finished for poor Klimchuk. He didn’t get a chance at the Young Stars tournament and got in one preseason game. He was sent down in the third round of cuts, and was healthy scratched for his first game of the year.
Klimchuk got his shot in after Heat captain Mike Angelidis was suspended. In his first game of the season, he scored two points. Two games later, he had a four point night with two goals. The next night, another two point game.
So how has Morgan Klimchuk turned himself around? Well shooting >30% helps, but he has also made substantial improvements to his stat line since this season began. For starters, let’s go back to the end of the 2015-16 season.
You don’t need much reminder, but Klimchuk’s 2015-16 was terrible. His points production was in the garbage, and his shot generation somewhere worse.
Now we are only seven games into Klimmer’s year, but those numbers are starting to improve. He is now at two shots per game, a good benchmark for offensive production. He needs to keep pushing that number higher though if he wants to sustain that. Klimchuk is also way above that comical 0.148 primary points per game. He already has eight to his name, five of them coming at even strength.
So what did Klimchuk change to put up such big numbers? I reached out to Stockton Heat radio man Brandon Kisker for an answer:
No doubt he’s been a popular topic right now but I’ll give you the same answer I’ve given.
Not a thing.
Last year for whatever reason he just was unlucky. He should’ve put up a ton more points and was putting in tons of work. When things weren’t going his way, he wouldn’t get frustrated, rather adapt his game to play a role the team needed as a shutdown two-way player.
This year the same player exists on the ice but he’s getting the numbers he should’ve been getting last season. He’s one of the hardest workers and nobody was more upset about his lack of point production than him last year, however he stuck with the program, put in work during the offseason, but is still that same great player who’s getting the results he deserves.
Kisker, as he stated in Taylor’s article up there, has always seen the positives in Klimchuk. In his opinion, Klimchuk already has the skills, it was just a matter of getting the right circumstances. This current season seems to have been what he was waiting for.
Because of this sudden outburst from Klimchuk, it’s time to reevaluate his role in the Flames organization and set some new expectations. He’s already halfway to the number we predicted earlier in the year.
As I’ve alluded to throughout this article, Klimchuk is currently riding some unsustainable waves right now. He’s certainly not going to keep shooting 30%, and we can certainly expect his goal totals to drop down a bit. He’s not going to get 97 points, as his point-per-game stats are indicating.
On the other hand, the improvement is quite clear. He’s always been a trustworthy defensive forward for the Heat, but has also made the most of opportunities when tasked with an offensive role. Thanks to the Hunter Shinkaruk being called up, he has a bigger chance with the offense. Kisker, again:
You know I asked Coach about what he’s talked to Morgan about and he basically told me not much [with regards to how Klimchuk’s role has changed from last year to this year]. Essentially Morgan is a responsible player and Coach feels safer when he’s out on the ice. The fact he’s not only providing a defensive presence but also some offense just builds his own confidence to the point that nothing really needs to be said to him. Morgan is still out for critical PKs, still out on important d-zone draws but just finds himself (now with Shinkaruk’s call up) on the top line with some playmakers as well as more power play time. Too early to tell since it’s only been one game but he will be getting added minutes considering Shinkaruk is with the big club for the time being.
So for the immediate future, we have Klimchuk on the top line with Mark Jankowski, another high-producing prospect. He’ll be getting minutes, special teams time, and offensive zone starts. What he needs to do is give Huska and the Heat a reason to keep him on as the top line winger when Shinkaruk comes down. His defensive game has already earned his coach’s trust, and his offensive game is finding fans. Now it’s all a matter of putting the two together.
It would be very disappointing if Klimchuk took a step backwards now. With many other Stockton forwards, mostly rookies, starting the year off extremely well, there are players waiting to usurp him should he fall behind. He has a wonderful opportunity in front of him, now it’s all a matter of making it count.