Way, way back in 1976 the Atlanta Flames drafted Kent Nilsson, who became a very good National Hockey League player. At the 1985 NHL Draft, Nilsson was flipped to the Minnesota North Stars in exchanged for a pair of second round picks – one was used to select Joe Nieuwendyk. Nieuwendyk became a very good NHLer and was traded to Dallas in 1995 for Jarome Iginla (and Corey Millen). Iginla also became a very good NHLer before being traded to Pittsburgh in 2013 for a package that included a first round pick that was used to select Morgan Klimchuk.
A former Western Hockey League two-way standout, Klimchuk played his first NHL game in 2017-18 after quietly simmering in the minors for a couple seasons. It’s probably safe to say he won’t have the NHL impact of Nilsson, Nieuwendyk or Iginla, but he still has the potential to nudge his way onto the Flames roster.
How did we get here?
A product of Calgary’s minor hockey system – he played for Shaw Meadows – Klimchuk was a standout for the Bisons and Buffaloes and was selected fifth overall by the Regina Pats in the 2010 Western Hockey League’s Bantam Draft.
In two years in the WHL prior to the NHL Draft, Klimchuk had 36 points in 67 games (as a rookie in 2011-12) and 76 points in 72 games (in 2012-13). He was used in a two-way role primarily, but was smart enough away from the puck to create opportunities for his team offensively. Ranked 25th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, he was selected 28th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
In his two junior seasons after the draft, Klimchuk continued to ratchet up his offensive output. Playing much the same role as he did prior to his drafting, he had 74 points in 57 games and 80 points in 60 games. His final year of junior saw him traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings at the trade deadline.
Klimchuk’s first two pro seasons went very differently. His first season saw him hit hard by the American Hockey League’s learning curve and essentially have to learn things from the ground up, putting up 10 points in 55 games while playing primarily in the bottom six. But he turned a corner late in the season and seemed to find his confidence with the puck. That continued into his second season (2016-17), when he had 43 points in 66 games and was one of Stockton’s most consistent 200-foot players.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
The 2017-18 season was the third of Klimchuk’s entry-level deal.
After his breakout in 2016-17, Klimchuk basically had the exact same season in 2017-18. He was used in all situations. He played a strong, consistent game. He even earned a quick NHL call-up, playing 7:25 on the fourth line against Boston in February. Having been in attendance, I can say that he wasn’t terribly noticeable – which is a good thing for a fourth liner to be.
The only Heat player with more points was Andrew Mangiapane, though he missed time due to call-ups and a shoulder injury. But Klimchuk compares favourably to Spencer Foo production-wise and is a year younger.
For a deeper look into Klimchuk’s numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup here.
Those in the know
Stockton Heat head coach Cail MacLean broke down Klimchuk’s on-ice performance and what he needs to do to chart a path to full-time NHL duty.
I think he’s a really mature player. He has a good sense of the overall game as a pro. One thing he brings to the table that makes him stand out is speed. He has a lot of speed and so he’s starting to put all that together and making him into a pro that’s going to be able to play at that NHL pace, and now it’s a matter of finding a way to differentiate himself to crack that lineup in Calgary… I think he does a lot of things well, and now his job is going to be to relax into it and show those intangibles that make him a really good AHL player and getting good production at this level.
Our Heat correspondent, Stockton’s Finest, also provided his assessment of Klimchuk’s game.
This is a player who is not flashy, but always tends to have a point at the end of the game that no one remembers. He was second on the team with 40 points (19-21) but ask me to tell you his season highlight and I could not remember a single “wow” moment that stood out.
On the horizon
Klimchuk signed a one-year deal with the Flames, so he’ll be back for 2018-19 and hoping to build upon his one-game NHL career. He’s a dark horse for an NHL job on the fourth line. He’s a good two-way player with speed and good hockey IQ, but he’s probably competing with Dillon Dube for bottom six work and Dube might have a bit more jam and grit to his game. Worst case, Klimchuk will be a rock solid AHL winger who can play in every situation. His lack of flash likely works against him getting a lot of NHL attention, but he’s the type of player coaches love because he’s so smart and responsible.
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