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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

Prospect wrap-up: Morgan Klimchuk

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?

Brief history

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:

2016-17 performance

GP-G-A-P Primary points 5v5 P1 NHLe
66-19-24-43 31 22 25.64

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.

Quotable

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Previously

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 HickeyRiley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison

  • freethe flames

    I completely disagree with the opinion that there is only one forward position available on this team. The more I watch the playoffs and the more I think the only way this team can move forward and compete is to be prepared to move beyond a $10mm 4th line. This team needs to move forward by having a 4th line that can play regardless of their pay. I would suggest we have the following forwards that are true NHL forwards: Johnny/Monny/Ferland/Tkachuk/Backs/Frolik/Bennett; 2 of which are currently unsigned. After that there the FA ?marks; Chaisson, Versteeg if they can be signed then one can make an argument that we have 9 forwards. Bouma and Brouwer need to be replaced, Stajan is on the bubble and FHamilton is an adequate 13/14 forward but is replaceable. That leaves plenty of room for Lazar/Janko/Klimchuk/Lomberg/Hathaway/Mangiapane and even Poirier if he can overcome whatever demons are haunting him to push the pile and earn a job. Upfront BT needs to see if he can pry loose a forward from one of the teams with too many good players to protect w/o paying too high of a price. In a what is said to be a weak draft year I could see the first rounder being in play for the right young forward.(Normally I would be opposed to moving a first rounder especially when we have few picks) Based on Klimchuk’s season there is every reason to be hopeful that he could push for a job on the LW; had he been healthy the Heat may still be playing.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      “Bouma and Brouwer” need to be replaced.” Quite agree, but the way you say it, shifting $6.7M in bad money for 2017-18 is as easy as gum. If Tre can wave a wand and say the magic words and make it disappear, I will hire him as entertainment for my kid’s next birthday party.

      In the real world, for Tre to unload that bad money he is going to have to take back bad money and/or sweeten the bitter taste.

      Flames need a goalie, what about one of those one or both of those Dallas dingleberries for Brouwer? The Flames will save about $2M overall. Both Dallas goalies are on expiring contracts, so they will be motivated. If not, no long-term pain. Finally, Dallas might be one of the few clubs willing to touch big money Brouwer as Hitch was able to light a fire of him when they were together in St. Louis.

      Frankly, the Flames think a great deal more of Brouwer than the fans, so expect to see him a Flame for the duration of his contract.

    • It’s not an “opinion” as much as it is fact.

      Assuming they sign all of their RFAs (and why wouldn’t they) and make no UFA additions, here’s what the roster would look like:
      13-23-79
      19-11-67
      xx-93-39
      17-18-36
      25, 20
      (again, this is without Versteeg, who they’re probably going to re-sign)
      There’s one space. If a forward gets claimed, there’s two spaces, but who’s to say they don’t dabble in free agency. Any way you look at it, there’s a premium on roster spots. No one is going to take Bouma (hence why I said that they bury him, but there’s still doubts about that) and absolutely no one is going to take Brouwer. Ideally, sure, there are spots up for grabs. Reality disagrees.

      • freethe flames

        That’s only if you live in the old time reality. These playoffs are proving that the better teams have 4 lines that can play and the $10mm 4th line is not good enough.

        • Not what I’m talking about.

          The fourth line is bad, we can all agree on that. But you cannot move any of them even if you wanted to. No one wants Troy Brouwer or Lance Bouma on their team unless the Flames are throwing them something else. You can bury one of those guys and that’s it. You’re pretty much stuck with them until the contracts run out.

          Plus, the organization has shown no regret in any of those players. Stajan and Bouma both play PK and Brouwer is on the first unit PP. Two of them wear As. Those three players saw a combined six healthy scratches this year, and five of those were on Bouma. They legitimately like these players. If someone shows up to camp and puts on a show, then maybe they’ll bury Bouma (but only because he’s the cheapest of the three), but that’s still a maybe.

          • freethe flames

            While everything you say makes sense; then the Flames cannot move forward and will remain a bubble team. GG has to see what is happening in the playoffs and they have to be evaluating why they were swept. It’s also time to give someone else an A, there are 2 good candidates to replace them in Backs and Monahan; they should wear them everyday. BT also has to see this as well.

        • He’s big, he shoots right, he’s physical, he plays PK, he’s an RFA, he improved from the year before, he’ll come cheap, he can play a multitude of roles, and he has good underlying numbers. He’s exactly what the Flames have been trying to find for their bottom six but have never had success doing. Unless they have something lined up for an actual top six right winger, they should stick to him.

          A common misconception with regard to ~every~ prospect is that they can immediately step in and replace an NHLer without anyone noticing. It’s not true and it’s probably not going to happen for a kid who has had one good AHL season so far. If you’re in a situation where enough spots are open for a few prospects to make the team, you’re in a terrible situation.

  • Just.Visiting

    I’m in the show me camp on Morgan. Looks like more upside than the current 4th line guys, but not so sure about how he would project in a higher role. That being said, I agree with freetheflames that it would be a mistake to structure the team around the paradigm that there’s only one spot open up front. The simple fact is that we are currently a playoff bubble team. While Versteeg and Chiasson (latter part of the year) did better than I expected, I don’t regard either as big pieces of the team we need to be in order to contend. I’d much sooner move Tkachuk to the first line, fix the PP (Dougie and Gio on first unit, Brodie and someone with a shot on second) and fill openings with Janko, Hathaway, Lazar, possibly Klimchuk, Lomberg, with Mange probably needing another year growing offensively. We can hedge our gets with a couple of PTOs, as long as we don’t go in with bias towards veterans.

    • everton fc

      I think Klimchuk’s speed, character, hustle, and ability to continue to improve… He will surprise a lot of fans of this blog. I have high hopes for Klimchuk. A real “sleeper”.

      As for Versteeg being a “fringe” player, that’s simply not true. Nor is Chiasson, though he’s the type of forward who moves around the league a lot. Bouma’s a fringe player. Freddie H. Any team in the league would want Versteeg, after last season.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    Hope we see 1-2 prospect forwards and 1-2 prospect D-men make the everyday Flames roster in 2017-18. Don’t hold back good prospects so they regress!!

  • Skylardog

    Klimchuk is one of the reasons why the Flames should not resign Versteeg, even though he was great this past season and could give us a good year or 2. 2017/18 will be a wait and see year while we wait for Bouma, and Stajan’s contracts to disappear. We have a great opportunity to get the young guys a ton of experience, but signing UFA’s will take away their ice time by stealing roster spots. The UFA market seems a bit weak this year anyways.
    Could get Janko, Klimchuk and Shinkaruk all in the lineup this year if they want to, while using Brouwer, F. Hamilton, Stajan, and Bouma in limited roles (pressbox most nights).

    I do agree with many above though, the management and GG seem to love Brouwer, and he isn’t going anywhere soon.

    • herringchoker

      I remember an interview last year when Burke described Mangiapane as a “ball of hate”. He also very offensively gifted. We need to get these guys real NHL minutes. No more Versteeg and Chaisson. They are fringe players at best.

      • freethe flames

        Mangiapane(I have nick named him magpie) could very easily push the pile. He could potentially play on any line. I suspect he will be a late season call up but I would love to him given a real chance. Can he play RW? What about a line of Magpie/Bennett/Tkachuk? How much fun could that be?

      • Just.Visiting

        Agree totally. The comment applies equally to Engelland and Kris Russell if management again thinks that’s a good idea. We are not good enough to contend seriously. We need to build a stronger supporting cast from our own talent, see where the gaps are after the road test and then spend for the required missing top end pieces. A dollar is a dollar. We could have one great player for what we had spent on Brouwer, Wideman, Stajan and Engelland, with no meaningful performance drop off from the depth players covering the holes they would have left.

      • Just.Visiting

        And I’d be cautious about handing Lazar a position over our own talent unless he earns it. We again sent a signal that we value new shiny things from elsewhere more than our own talent. I was OK with the deal, but he seemed more of a 4th line upgrade based on what my eyes told me, where I have an easier time seeing Janko and Mange higher in the lineup.

        • class1div1

          Yea I have been anxiously waiting for that interview with BT where he talks about the prospects. Right now you get the impression that’s not something he wants to talk about. Is he excited by any of them, or more interested in picking up other teams. He called Lazar a long term project. What did he mean by that.Is he a project with NHL icetime.