In June of 2013, Morgan Klimchuk heard his name called by the Calgary Flames at 28th Overall in the NHL Entry Draft. It was a great moment for Klimchuk having grown up watching the Flames in the Stampede City. When fall came around and Flames Training Camp on the horizon is first on-ice professional experience would hit a delay as the Pats’ sniper suffered an injury at Pats Training Camp just days before he left for Calgary. Klimchuk returned to the Pats for the beginning of the WHL Regular Season and went on to post 74 points (30G, 44A), just two points off his career high despite only playing 57 games in the 2013-14 campaign. He also added five points in four playoff games against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
With the Pats season at an end, Klimchuk journeyed West to join the Flames’ AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat for what would be the teams’ final games before departing for Glens Falls, New York this off-season. Before he could get into action with the Heat, Klimchuk was sidelined with a minor injury to once again delay his debut. The Pats’ leading scorer set aside frustration to take advantage of the extra time to observe how the game works at the pro level.
“It was good to watch a couple games when I was out. Obviously you never want to be hurt, I wanted to get into action as soon as possible. There were just some nagging things from the year that I wanted to make sure I was one hundred percent before making that jump (from pro to junior).”
|Photo: Keith Hershmiller/Regina Pats|
On April 11th, Klimchuk got into his first game with the Heat. It was an experience that left the two-time U18 Gold Medalist a little overwhelmed.
“My first shift I was pretty nervous. I think it was a little overwhelming, you’re playing against a lot of guys and with a lot of guys that you’ve seen playing in the NHL. You have to make sure you’re not too star-struck, but you really have to enjoy the moment. That’s what I did. I just tried to go out there and contribute on both sides of the puck, and be responsible.”
Klimchuk drew into four games at the end of Abbotsford’s regular season. He didn’t register a point, but in the season closer against Texas, put two two of the Heat’s twenty-six shots on goal. Unfortunately that would be the end of game action for Morgan as Abbotsford rolled into the playoffs. The Heat were very deep on Klimchuk’s left side with leading scorer Max Reinhart, second leading scorer Ben Street, Sven Baertschi, and Ben Hanowski among the left handed shots. Despite not suiting up for a playoff game, there were plenty of opportunities for the younger winger to learn.
“You see the kind of way they play the game, some of the things they do really hit home because they are playing the same position as you and playing at a level you want to play at. It was good to be around those guys, not only playing but practicing as well.”
Watching through Abbotsford’s first round series against Grand Rapids, Morgan was to get an appreciation for what he’s up against when Flames Camp rolls around in the fall.
“You see what they’re good at and obviously what you have to work on to beat those guys out for jobs. Hockey is a very competitive business and you can take things like that and not only compete with them, but learn from them as well to make yourself better.”
Heading into his 19-year old season, Klimchuk will have to make the Flames roster to play in the professional ranks in the 2014-15 season. His stint with the Heat showed the prospect what it will take to contend with older players.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand how hard pro hockey players work not only in the gym, but on the ice every day. The little things from how they pass the puck to how hard they battle in practice is something I really learned to appreciate while I was there.”
Last off-season, Klimchuk was able to put on some extra weight and built up his strength, but ran into injury troubles when the puck dropped. He’ll be working to prevent that this summer.
“When you want to try to make the jump up to a higher level where guys are bigger, faster and stronger it’s pretty cliché at this point, but (strength) is what you really need to work on. For me it’s going to be making sure that I stay loose and stay flexible so I can avoid as many injuries as possible next year.”
Overall Morgan Klimchuk’s first professional experience was one he was able to enjoy and gain valuable experience from. That experience will help the winger as he looks to crack the Flames’ lineup next year and will certainly benefit the Pats if he returns for another season in the Queen City.
“You kind of get a real taste of what pro hockey is like when you’re actually on the roster. It was something that was very beneficial for me. You learn what it takes to play at that level and not only play, but succeed. I was very fortunate for the opportunity and it’s something I really made the most of.”