Being part of a legacy can be a tough thing for a young player. Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk is the latest link in a chain of assets and trades that connect him to Jarome Iginla, Joe Nieuwendyk and Kent Nilsson. It’s a tough act to follow.
But in an organization that has seen three first round picks head straight to the National Hockey League in recent years – in the forms of Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk – and has Mark Jankowski pushing for an NHL gig, Klimchuk has been able to ply his trade outside the spotlight and figure out his game in the AHL. After a rough first pro season, he may have turned a corner towards an NHL future.
Ranked 18th on this list last year, Klimchuk jumps to 10th on this year’s prospect rankings.
A brief history
Klimchuk is a Calgary kid who plied his trade with the Bisons and Buffaloes before heading to the Western Hockey League. He was drafted after his second season in the WHL with the Regina Pats, selected 28th overall by the Flames after posting 76 points in 72 games. The draft pick was originally Pittsburgh’s, sent to the Flames in the Jarome Iginla trade earlier that spring.
The four seasons since Klimchuk’s selection can be neatly split into two junior seasons and two pro seasons:
In 2013-14 and 2014-15, Klimchuk played in the WHL. He had 74 points in 2013-14 and 80 points in 2014-15, moving late in the latter season to the Brandon Wheat Kings to bolster them for a playoff run. He established himself as a strong 200-foot WHL forward, able to play in every situation and consistently generate offense.
Klimchuk headed to the professional ranks in 2015-16 and didn’t have nearly the same success early on that he had in junior. Simply put, what ended up happening is Klimchuk had to undergo the same sort of learning curve in the AHL that he had to endure as a WHL rookie – wrapping his head around the nuances of the pro game and adjusting his instincts so he wouldn’t be exposed at the pro level. He played primarily bottom six minutes in a checking role and had just three goals and nine points in 55 games – he missed 13 games due to a couple injuries.
This past season was much better for Klimchuk, perhaps because of all the time he spent playing the defensive situations in the prior season. He got out of the gates quickly offensively, equaling his rookie goal total after three games and his rookie point total after six games. He ended up with 19 goals and 43 points as a sophomore, finishing third on the Heat in scoring – behind just Mark Jankowski and Linden Vey. Much as he was for the Regina Pats, Klimchuk ended up as one of the more consistent 200-foot presences for the Heat last season.
Calgary Flames development coach Ray Edwards credited a lot of Klimchuk’s success in 2016-17 to his summer preparation before the season.
To his credit, he took the last offseason and he got his mind right and he prepared himself. Man, I’ll tell ya… He scored early in the season, got his confidence. He’s all over the puck, he’s a relentless forechecker, he’s unbelievable at taking pucks away, he started finishing this year. The sky’s the limit for Morgan.
Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska pointed to a lot of the details of Klimchuk’s game as why he was able to have such a big year for his club.
Morgan doesn’t cheat the game at all. And I think that’s the reason why you saw him get rewarded this year. Even when he was trying to get his head above water his first year pro, adjusting to a different style of game, not having the offensive success that he wanted, he never cheated us, he never cheated himself, and he kept coming to the rink every day to make himself a better player. He put the time in. So when he came back this year, I think he came back very committed, very prepared and he got himself off to a great start. Over the course of the year, he became not just a valuable checker on our team (which he was the year before), he’s now an offensive threat as well, and a lot of that is because he put the work in.
What comes next?
Will Klimchuk ever be the equal of Iginla, Nieuwendyk or Nilsson? Well, probably not – though he’s probably better defensively than Nilsson ever was. That said, he’s become a damn good AHL player and it’s still not clear if his development has topped out yet.
He’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. He’s the only 2013 first round selection that hasn’t played an NHL game yet. Depending on his play and how healthy the Flames are in 2017-18, he might sneak his way into a game or two – though probably only as a mid-season recall. He’s improved since his iffy first AHL year, but he’s still got to establish what type of player he could be at the NHL level.
|#20 – Ryan Lomberg||#19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson|
|#18 – Daniel Pribyl||#17 – Eetu Tuulola|
|#16 – Adam Ruzicka||#15 – Emile Poirier|
|#14 – David Rittich||#13 – Hunter Shinkaruk|
|#12 – Matthew Phillips||#11 – Jon Gillies|