By Kirk Luedeke
If you look up the word ‘underrated’ in the dictionary, you might find a picture of Regina Pats forward Morgan Klimchuk staring back at you.
Fresh off of Canada’s first gold medal at the World Under 18 Championship tournament since 2008 last month, Klimchuk is a player on the rise, even if he isn’t generating a lot of talk in prospect circles. The speedy and highly skilled offensive winger hopes to parlay a 36-goal season and strong international play into a first-round selection at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in Newark, N.J. June 30.
“He’s unbelievably coachable,” said new Regina head coach Malcolm Cameron, who replaced Pat Conacher after spending several seasons with the Pats as an assistant. “His hockey IQ is probably his best attribute. He thinks the game higher than most players.”
The 18-year-old Calgary resident was born in Regina but moved with his family to Alberta at just four days old. Coming back to his birth city to star for the hometown major junior club has been a great experience for the youngster, but he understands that the work is only beginning.
“I take my training very seriously,” Klimchuk told New England Hockey Journal after he returned from Sochi. “In terms of hockey, I’m focusing on my skating- improving my first four steps and acceleration. I’ve obviously got to get bigger, stronger too, so I’ve got a pretty full schedule to get ready for the next season.”
With the Boston Bruins having struggled at times to find the back of the net consistently this season, should Klimchuk be available to them at the end of the first round, he just might be one of those dual needs and best available player selections.
“Klimchuk will go higher than folks think,” said one NHL scout based in Western Canada. “You wish he showed just a little toughness, but the skating and skill are elite.”
Although his size is only average at a listed 5-foot-11, 180-pounds, Klimchuk is an excellent skater and puckhandler with a lightning release and the natural vision/hockey sense to be a threat to score on every shift. However, where he was considered by many to be a one-dimensional player during his 18-goal, 36-point rookie campaign, the center (who can play any forward position) jumped to 36 goals and 76 points while bringing a more rounded game in 2012-13.
In his rookie season, Klimchuk admitted to taking a little time to adjust to the demands of the WHL both on the ice and in terms of the long season grind.
“It was a pretty big jump, and the first thing you notice is the speed of the game and how fast your time and space are gone,” said Klimchuk. “It’s pretty cliché to say that the guys are so much bigger and stronger than bantam and midget, but it’s true. I had some great veteran players who really welcomed me in and helped me to make the adjustment at this level, though.”
Pat Conacher and the Regina coaching staff went out of the way to surround Klimchuk with quality veteran players who could show him what right looked like. As a result, that move paid off, with Klimchuk taking his offense to a different level, even though the team fell short of making the WHL playoffs.
“He was pretty advanced for a 16-year-old,” Cameron said. “He stepped into a very good situation, but we put him with (Kings prospect) Jordan Weal, who was an accomplished WHL player, and Lane Scheidl, and the two of them took Morgan under their wing and showed him what he needed to do to be successful at this level. “
Scheidl returned to Regina this season for an overage campaign, where he and Klimchuk combined for 77 goals on a team that scored just 191 total.
“Goals did not come easy for us this year, but Morgan was such a consistent offensive presence as a 17-year-old,” Cameron said. “He has a natural nose for the net and re-dedicated himself to playing a complete game this season. We didn’t make the playoffs, but he was a big part of the success we had.”
Klimchuk grew up rooting for the Calgary Flames and Jarome Iginla, but also liked lesser-known Flames forward Oleg Saprykin, the 11th overall selection in 1999.
“I liked his speed and skill,” Klimchuk said. “He was a part of Calgary’s run to the Stanley Cup final (in 2004) and even though he wasn’t ever a star (325 NHL games, 137 points), I enjoyed watching him play.”
NHL scouts and Klimchuk’s coach may feel that he doesn’t get enough credit for his talent and long-term NHL potential, but those who have followed him closely won’t be surprised if he goes top-20. If available and the Bruins still hold their first-round selection in Newark at around 26 (conditional to Dallas as part of the Jaromir Jagr trade), he’s the kind of high-upside player whose offensive skill and character would be a nice fit in the organization.
“I enjoy watching the Bruins,” he said. “I like the style they play and it would obviously be a thrill to be selected by Boston.”