Life can be full of pressure for a young hockey player. Doubly so for a first round draft pick. Particularly if the franchise that drafted you hadn’t had a first rounder amount to much in several seasons.
So if you heard that Morgan Klimchuk was a recent Calgary Flames first round draft pick, you’d probably presume that he’s under a lot of pressure. (Triply so if you take into account he was a piece of the trade that saw the iconic Jarome Iginla leave the Flames franchise.)
But for many reasons, Klimchuk is calm and collected, both on and off the ice.
The fifth player taken in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, selected with the Regina Pats’ first pick, Klimchuk made his major-junior debut late that year at the tender age of 15. He made the leap to full-time WHL duty at 16, and by the time he was selected by the Flames, 28th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, Klimchuk had 144 games (and 113 points) under his belt.
It’s easy to be calm when you’ve been in the major-junior pressure cooker for so long. The circumstances of Klimchuk’s selection – and the developments since – have conspired to minimize the pressure swirling around him.
While Klimchuk was a component in the Jarome Iginla trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins – along with Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino – but he was selected by the Flames, who acquired the Penguins’ first round pick that year and used it themselves. Klimchuk’s drafting was a product of the team’s wheeling and dealing allowing their scouting staff another kick at the can in the first round, rather than them getting another organization’s hand-me-downs. The Flames obviously really wanted Klimchuk in their organization.
The team also had two previous picks in the first round. The club selected Sean Monahan at sixth overall and Emile Poirier at 22nd overall. Because he was one of the best players in the draft, Monahan made the jump to the NHL and is now arguably Calgary’s best center. Because of his December 1994 birthday, Poirier was able to turn pro this season and has been on a tear as a rookie with the American Hockey League’s Adirondack Flames. While Klimchuk played four AHL games with the Abbotsford Heat late last season on a try-out, he’ll be the last member of the 2013 first round trio to turn pro, and there’s a pretty decent chance that 2014 Flames first rounder Sam Bennett could play a professional game before Klimchuk plays another one. Klimchuk doesn’t seem to mind the comparisons to Monahan and Poirier, but notes he’s a different type of player.
“Those are two real special players,” noted Klimchuk after a 5-4 Brandon win over the Calgary Hitmen at the Scotiabank Saddledome. “I think I play a different game than both those guys. I’m just trying to develop every day I can.”
In prior seasons, Flames fans (and media, for that matter) may be fretting about Klimchuk’s production, progression and his estimated time of arrival in the National Hockey League, his experience has seemingly been much more low key. Particularly when considering the level of scrutiny leveled towards 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi – currently pressing for an NHL spot with his performance in the American League – and 2012 first round pick Mark Jankowski, who the team famously traded down to select rather than stand pat and choose Olli Maatta (or another available player) instead.
Baertschi carries the weight of expectations after a breath-taking emergency call-up that saw him lead the team to a few victories. Jankowski reminds the fanbase of lost opportunities. Klimchuk? His recent trade from the Pats to the Brandon Wheat Kings – who are making a big push to be Memorial Cup contenders – was met with surprisingly little fanfare. Now with Brandon and readying for a playoff push, Klimchuk continues doing what he’s done for the entirety of his junior career: playing a smart 200-foot game. The biggest difference for him is being under the tutelage of long-time Brandon coach Kelly McCrimmon, his fourth different coach in the past three seasons. He notes that exposure to new coaching perspectives is crucial to growing his game.
“It’s huge. You want different perspectives because that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow,” said Klimchuk. “If you kinda get stuck with the same thing for a long time, you – I’m not gonna say flatline, but you don’t get new perspectives, and that’s something that I’m definitly getting a lot of this year and the last few years in this league because I’ve had a lot of different coaches. It’s a great opportunity and something I’m looking forward to.”
Already signed to an entry-level National Hockey League contract, Klimchuk is still eligible to return to the WHL as an over-age player next season. However, based upon his strong play at the major-junior level, the expectation is that he’ll be a professional hockey player next season, pushing for a spot in Calgary before too long.
But before then, Klimchuk will be doing whatever he can to try to get the Brandon Wheat Kings over the hump and earn them some hardware, and hopefully add a championship to his resume before he completes his junior career.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.