Photo credit:David Moll / Calgary Wranglers
‘He’s a Golden Retriever’: Gentle giant Adam Klapka nearing NHL opportunity
By Mike Gould3 months ago
Adam Klapka is a full foot taller than the last player who led the Calgary Wranglers in goals.
Much like the five-foot-eight Matthew Phillips, now of the Washington Capitals, Klapka is instantly recognizable because of his stature whenever he steps on the ice — although, of course, he’s at the opposite extreme in that regard.
If he were to make his National Hockey League debut tomorrow, Klapka would be one of only two six-foot-eight players at any position (Vancouver Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers being the other). He’d be as tall or taller than anyone in league history not named Zdeno Chara.
Only four six-foot-eight forwards have ever played in the NHL, and three of them (John Scott, Mitch Fritz, and Steve McKenna) were undrafted enforcers. The other, Elmer Söderblom, is a Detroit Red Wings prospect who shares some attributes with Klapka.
Söderblom was a sixth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2019; the undrafted Klapka signed with the Flames in 2022. The former is a left-shooting Swede; Klapka is Czech and shoots right. But beyond that, they’re pretty similar. The two are less than a year apart in age and both scored at similar rates as AHL rookies in 2022–23. And they’re both right on the precipice of reaching the next level.
Klapka leads the Wranglers with seven goals in 16 games to kick off the 2023–24 campaign. He’s second to Ben Jones with 13 points and tied with Clark Bishop for second with 26 penalty minutes.
On Wednesday, Klapka netted a pair of goals — including the game-winner — in a 4–0 victory over the Tucson Roadrunners. It was his second multi-goal outing of the season and kept him within just two points of Jones for the team scoring lead.
Söderblom parlayed his early success in North America into 20 NHL games with the Red Wings in 2022–23. A similar reward might be in the offing for Klapka, who has kicked his game up a notch early on in his second go-round with the Wranglers.
Off the ice, Klapka is a big ol’ teddy bear of a man with a contagious smile. He’s popular with his teammates and offers up a humble and lighthearted interview when called upon.
“Every day you’re spending here, you’re more and more comfortable about all the systems and all the things,” Klapka said after Tuesday’s 3–2 loss to Tucson, in which he registered an assist on a goal by Rory Kerins. “I’m happy to be here and like to live in Calgary, that’s awesome.”
A couple of Klapka’s teammates painted a more colourful picture of the gentle giant in the wake of his two-goal performance on Wednesday.
“Klaps is funny. He comes to work every day, he just wants to get better. A lot of the guys describe him as a Golden Retriever,” Jones said. “You know, he’s always got his tongue out, he’s just a happy-go-lucky guy.”
“That’s a very reasonable description of him,” added Dustin Wolf, who pitched a 24-save shutout against Tucson on Wednesday. “He’s a ball of joy in there. He comes to the rink and he’s always got a smile on his face. Everybody kind of gives it to him because he’s the biggest man with the biggest smile. It’s good to see him have some success.”
Klapka has served as an alternate captain at various points this season, with new head coach Trent Cull opting to rotate it around while he gets to know his players. But while he didn’t have an ‘A’ on his chest in this week’s games against Tucson, Klapka did wear something a little more distinctive around his neck.
In the wake of Adam Johnson’s tragic death last month, neck guards have become increasingly popular in the hockey world as players seek to protect themselves from being cut by errant skate blades. Klapka is the first member of the Wranglers to spot a neck guard, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be taking it off anytime soon.
“Unfortunately, the thing that happened gave me the heads-up that it can happen, so I just asked about it,” Klapka said. “I just took it and I liked it. I didn’t have any problems with it so I just decided to play with it.”
With the extra protection in place, Klapka notched three points in two games against the Roadrunners this week and drew praise for his efforts from one of his most vocal teammates.
“At the end of the day, he’s here to work. He’s here to want to win,” Jones said on Wednesday. “When he’s going to the net, he’s playing heavy, and he’s doing the thing he does well, you can see it translates with two goals tonight.
“Building off last year, a rookie year for him, I remember talking to him at the end of the year and saying how great of a rookie year it was for him,” Jones added. “That’s hard to do, to come in, to come to a winning team especially and work your way into the lineup.”
Cull offered similar compliments for Klapka and also offered some guidance for how he can take that next step toward reaching the big leagues.
“You’re talking about the consistency of guys like Jones, or some of the older guys, that’s part of Klapper’s development plan, just to make sure he’s bringing that same consistent effort every night,” Cull said. “And it’s great, I think, that he’s being part of scoring goals, but also, too, he needs to be a really good forechecker.”
With guys like Emilio Pettersen, Cole Schwindt, and Matt Coronato all champing at the bit to earn a look (or, in Coronato’s case, another look) with the Flames, Klapka has to maintain his current standard of play to ensure he gets his chance when the time comes.
The Flames lost again on Wednesday. Nothing’s impossible, but their playoff hopes aren’t particularly strong. And if they sell off some more established pieces ahead of the trade deadline, it stands to reason that the Flames will want to see whether their best farmhands can make a difference at the highest level.
Connor Zary, Jakob Pelletier, and Martin Pospisil have already proven they can hang with the big boys in Calgary. The blueprint is there. And if Klapka can follow in Pospisil’s footsteps, the Flames could have another fan favourite waiting in the wings.
Just as long as Klapka can fit his massive feet in Marty’s boots.
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