Yesterday, the Philadelphia Flyers recalled defenseman Samuel Morin from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Morin made his National Hockey League debut in the evening for the Flyers. That occurrence made a Calgary Flames prospect a rather inauspicious part of history: Morgan Klimchuk, the 28th pick overall in 2013, is the only player left from that year’s first round that hasn’t played in the NHL yet.
The Flames selected Klimchuk with the third of their three first round selections in 2013, the pick they received from Pittsburgh in the infamous Jarome Iginla trade. Still only 22, Klimchuk was a consistently good player in the Western Hockey League for many seasons. He made the jump to the American Hockey League last season with the Stockton Heat and didn’t exactly set the world on fire and began to make observers worry that he may become another Max Reinhart – a very good WHL player that failed to translate that success to the next level.
When we chatted with Heat head coach Ryan Huska over the summer, he noted that the jump from junior to the AHL may have been larger than Klimchuk anticipated, but he also had an interesting observation:
But I 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 top lines.
Lo and behold, Klimchuk has quietly put together a very good sophomore year in the AHL. After nine points in 55 games as a rookie (a 0.16 points per game pace), he has 42 points in 60 games (a 0.70 points per game pace) and is playing in every game situation. He’s essentially Stockton’s answer to Michael Frolik, in terms of the role he plays.
When we chatted with Huska this season, just prior to Christmas, his comments regarding Klimchuk were even more positive when we asked him if he was getting close to a call-up:
I do, I really do, and again, I think it’s because Morgan this year has shown a consistency in his play. His work ethic and his compete has never been in question. He’s a very detailed young man that tries to do everything the right way. He got off to a great start this year where he was generating some offense, he was scoring some goals, and I think because of that his confidence took a huge jump and his belief that he can play and he can be a guy that’s counted upon and real important for our team. From the beginning of our year he’s been very consistent with it. He’s probably one of our most consistent guys each and every night with how he shows up and plays. I do believe he has put himself in the mix should the need arise or if there’s a situation where [there’s an injury] up top, he’s put himself in that conversation.
Based on his progression from his rough first season to this one, Klimchuk isn’t in immediate danger of becoming another Reinhart. That said, the challenge for him will be transitioning from being a good AHLer into being a guy knocking on the door for a regular NHL job, and that’s the issue Reinhart had that saw him eventually put out to pasture. With a year left on his entry-level deal (and his waiver exemption), perhaps Klimchuk makes a push for a spot this fall.
Coincidentally, Klimchuk’s teammate Mark Jankowski was the last first rounder from the 2012 Draft to make their NHL debut when he played a game for the Flames in November.