Morgan Klimchuk had nine points in 55 hockey games last year. That is not good. He was a first round draft pick, acquired in a trade involving the Calgary Flames’ best ever player. That is double not good.
But the seeds were there. He earned the trust of the coaching staff as a 200-foot player (some would say the best on the team), albeit in a diminished role, but was ready to step up to a bigger top six role. Scoring a whopping 0.11 points per game is major cause for concern and doubt, but you had to believe he would get better with more exposure.
This year, it paid off. Klimchuk finished third in scoring for the Heat, nearly the complete inverse from last year when he finished second last among Heat regulars. How did this turnaround happen?
Klimchuk, born in Calgary, became a young, feature player for some sorry Regina Pats teams. In his first full-ish season in 2011-12, he finished fifth in scoring with 36 points, and was the only 1995 birthday to score more than 10 points. The next season, he took control of the team and finished second on his team with 76 points in 72 games, four points out of first place (he lapped the other ’95ers, the next closest finishing with 33 points). His relative strength to the Pats and his all-around game convinced the Flames to take him with the 28th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
His draft+1 season saw him improve on those numbers, scoring 74 in 59 games after an injury-shortened season. Klimchuk also got his first taste of the professional game, suiting up for the Abbotsford Heat for four games, but was held off of the scoresheet. He was a much sought after player in his final WHL season, traded to the contending Brandon Wheat Kings midway through the year. Combined, he put up 80 points in 60 games, but injuries limited his playoff appearances to only 13 out of 19 games, although he scored a point-per-game when he was playing.
In his first season out of junior, he put up those infamous nine points in 55 games, which brings us to here:
|GP-G-A-P||Primary points||5v5 P1||NHLe|
Compare some of these numbers to Taylor’s evaluation at the end of last year. He’s nearly quadrupled his primary points/game number, and doubled his shots/game. Those are two very big steps forward in his development, and explain a lot about his increase in points from this year to last.
Klimchuk got a lot of hype early in the season for some dynamite performances, but mostly because he was shooting around 30%. After a while that settled down, and Klimchuk took a subsequent rapid dive in point production. He got back on the wagon around mid-season, but he was only scoring around a point every two or three games. Like most Heat players, Klimchuk became an important contributor towards the end of the season, including one five-game stretch where he put up 10 points.
We turn to Brandon Kisker again for his thoughts on Klimchuk. First off, what exactly makes him a great two-way player?
He’s a motor. Klimmer never gives up on a play and when we lost both Klimchuk and Lomberg (two guys who I think are two of the key spokes to the Heat engine) we were going to be in a bit of trouble. Now looking back, we know that Bollig, Angelidis and Devane took over as the driving energy in the playoffs, but that’s what endears Klimchuk and Lomberg to Heat fans. They don’t give up, they’re hard to play against and they win more puck battles than they lose.
I’ve been a big believer in Morgan since last year, and had he not had the offensive success this year I’d still tell you, whether or not you’d believe me, he was going to be an NHLer. His speed, tenacity, drive, everything would have made him at the very least an extremely effective penalty killer and energy player. However, with his success this year, it led me to believe he was just a bit snakebitten during his rookie season, but instead of shutting everything down, he rounded out his game and this year had everything going for him.
No doubt Morgan put in the work over the offseason to improve his skills but he didn’t play any differently this year than last in my opinion. A bit more mature yes; a bit bigger, stronger and faster yes; but he was already one of the keys to our team last year without the offensive success. Hopefully his success this year will show that he should be taken more seriously when it comes to being a key prospect for the Flames and I fully expect him to make some noise and challenge for a roster spot next year in Calgary.
And how did Stockton use him this year compared to last?
Klimmer had a big role in his rookie season but it was in key defensive situations. This year, Coach Huska gave him the keys to the second power-play unit and they did have success. Running the half wall replacing Linden Vey on the second unit, I thought Klimmer did a pretty good job. The power play as a whole wasn’t a key strength of our team this year, but giving him the opportunity and to show him the team had confidence in him I thought was a good move.
If anything, it was a lack of scoring confidence that plagued him in year one, but year two he scored everything from pretty deke goals to garbage goals around the net. He was far more physical I thought this year but I’d like to see him get a little more physical and his biggest attribute, his speed – if he can get even quicker, he’d be a force to be reckoned with.
Klimchuk’s stock has risen exponentially. And the Flames could really use a bottom six winger who can drive play.
As I’ve said in the two previous wrap-ups (Shink and Janko), there’s potentially only one spot open next year and the likely option will be on the wing. There’s a high possibility that the Flames bury Lance Bouma, which immediately opens a spot for Klimchuk. He could immediately step into that penalty killing and defensive responsibility role that Gulutzan uses that fourth line in. It’s a perfect match.
But as I’ve said in the two previous wrap-ups, it’s a messy situation that is not going to be resolved for a long time. We have to wait for the expansion draft, RFA qualifying, the regular draft, UFA period, and all that before there’s a clear picture of what spots are available and what spots are not. Based on my thoughts, there should be a spot open that is ideal for Klimchuk, but again, that’s a spot that has stiff competition.
Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Rasmus Andersson, Kenney Morrison, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington, Stepan Falkovsky, Keegan Kanzig/Mason McDonald, Ryan Culkin/Brett Pollock, Mitchell Mattson, Adam Fox, Brandon Hickey, Riley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison