Pats’ Klimchuk hoping for NHL shot, but WJC berth could be his consolation prize

By Ken McKenna

Morgan Klimchuk - Team WHL

Photo: Regina Pats forward and Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk posted 30 goals and 44 assists in 57 games for the Pats in the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

 

With appearances in both of Team WHL‘s matches versus Russia in the 2013 Subway Super Series, Regina Pats forward Morgan Klimchuk was provided with a great opportunity to showcase his skills for Team Canada’s World Junior coaching staff.

 

Unfortunately for Klimchuk, a hip-flexor injury suffered in the second game of that mini-series kept him out of 14 WHL games and effectively ended whatever chance he had of competing for his country at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

 

Fast forward to earlier this month in Montreal at Hockey’s Canada’s Summer Development Camp, where Klimchuk was again among the hopefuls looking to impress Team Canada’s coaches in the hopes of making the 2015 WJC squad. For his part, Klimchuk is thrilled with receiving a second chance at representing his country.

 

“It’s been an honor,” said Klimchuk of competing at Canada’s camp. “It’s been something I’ve been working towards my whole junior career. Unfortunately, I got hurt last year so I didn’t even have a chance to go to the (camp) at Christmas. Playing the Super Series last year was kind of the first step and to kind of get selected to come here and make an impression is something that I’m really thankful for, and something that I’m just trying to make the most of.”

 

The U20 WJC this year returns to North America, with Canada being the host country. Canada has not won gold at this event since 2009, so the expectations of a country used to sitting atop the hockey world will no doubt be running very high. Klimchuk is aware of those expectations, but is taking a business-like approach to potentially competing in front of the home crowd.

 

“I think playing this tournament alone is a lot of pressure, and when it’s going to be in Canada, it’s kind of added pressure, for sure,” agreed Klimchuk. “But you can’t think about it too much or it’ll get kind of overwhelming, you just have to make sure you’re doing things right every day and working hard no matter where you’re playing or who you’re playing for. That’s the attitude that we’re going into things with.”

 

Despite the time missed due to injury, Klimchuk turned in a strong performance for the Pats last season, helping the club to a first place finish in the WHL’s East Division and their second playoff appearance in the last five years. Unfortunately, the Pats dropped four straight games to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first round of the 2014 WHL playoffs, quickly ending what looked like a promising season.

 

Despite the disappointing finish, Klimchuk feels his game has progressed as he heads into the 2014-15 campaign.

 

“(I feel I’ve progressed) quite a bit, I think, just from a maturity standpoint and in all aspects of the game, just being able to play in all three zones and just being a reliable player,” said Klimchuk. “When I was a bit younger, I was just kind of run-and-gun and more of an offensive player, but now I think I’m relied upon to play the penalty kill and the “D” zone a lot, so that’s something I take a lot of pride in now.”

 

Klimchuk was chosen by the Calgary Flames at the 2013 NHL Draft, the third of three first round picks that team held in that draft. The Regina, SK native is heading into his second NHL training camp and understands the value of taking part in these camps, even if the outcome doesn’t necessarily fit his expectations.

 

“It’s been good, and it’s all been very beneficial,” Klimchuk said of his NHL and WJC camp experiences. “At this time in your career, when you go through a lot of things like that, whether it’s development camps, junior camps, things like that – there’s a lot going on, so you just have to kind of take it all in wherever you go, just work hard and try not to think about what you’ve got lying ahead because it can get overwhelming. Just take something out of every experience that you get, and just work hard when you’re there.”

 

Klimchuk’s reputation is based mostly on his offensive contributions, but the veteran of three full-time WHL seasons isn’t going to short-change any area of his game when it comes to his development this coming season.

 

“I think to play at the pro hockey level, you’ve got to keep getting better at every single thing you need to work on, even the things you are good at,” said Klimchuk. “You can’t just focus on one thing. For me, it’s just going to be working on weaknesses and continuing to improve on my strengths, just rounding out my whole game.”

 

To be sure, Klimchuk’s main focus come September will be furthering his career and making it difficult for the Flames to return him to the WHL for one more year of junior hockey.

 

“Yeah, that’s the goal is to make Calgary,” Klimchuk agreed. “If I’m back in junior this year, then that’s obviously what the Flames would think is best for my development, so I’m going to go back there and work hard. But my goal is to play pro hockey this year, and I’m going to go to camp looking to do that.”

 

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