PENTICTON, BC -- Morgan Klimchuk has been around long enough to see and hear the ‘Always Earned, Never Given’ mantra surrounding the Calgary Flames. Now he’s getting set to feel it first hand.
The expectation on Klimchuk is that he’ll be graduating from Major Junior to the professional ranks, but the execution of that, the 20-year-old knows, has to be earned.
“They told me that they want me to play pro this year,” Klimchuk said. “It's something that you’ve got to earn, it’s not going to be given to you. That’s where they would like to see me and that's where I think my development would best be suited. At the end of the day, they can tell you that, but you have to go out and earn it. That’s what I'm looking to do in the next little bit here.
“They want me to play pro and that's probably best for me, but I have to show them and prove to them that I belong.”
The Flames are hoping Klimchuk shows he’s ready, too.
Ryan Huska, coach of the Stockton Heat and the man tasked with guiding Calgary’s prospects at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, is looking for those tells.
“I think you want to see Morgan get better every day with us,” Huska said. “That’s a challenge for him to start with -- he’s noticeable, he’s contributing, and he becomes a guy that the coaching staff can trust. Once he gets to that point, he’ll be fine.
“I think it’s time for Morgan as well. He’s been around for a long time and people know him. I think once he gets his feet wet again with us, having a little time with us, I assume -- never going to know what happens in main camp -- he’ll continue to develop and we’ll see him at that next level.”
With four full seasons of Western Hockey League action split between the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, there’s little left for Klimchuk to learn at the junior level. Logging 261 games, 118 goals and 267 points, the first round pick (No. 28) in the 2013 NHL Draft feels it’s time to graduate.
He took the summer to make that step.
Training with Flames strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten, Klimchuk put on 10 pounds of muscle over the summer, at Calgary’s request.
“I played at 180 all last year and right now I'm around 190, so 10 pounds of good weight is something I'm excited about and something they wanted to see from me,” Klimchuk said. “They told me that coming into this season they wanted me to get bigger and I did that. I put on a bunch of weight in the summer. I'm the heaviest I've been coming into camp and I'm the best I have felt. I’m noticing even after one game at this level. It’s a lot different than last year. I’m bigger, faster, and ready to play with older guys. That’s what they told me work on and I did just that.”
With a new challenge comes new pressure for the Calgary-raised product.
But it isn’t something he hasn’t seen before.
One of three first round picks in the 2013 draft -- Sean Monahan (No. 6) and Emile Poirier (No. 22) the others -- Klimchuk has dealt with the pressure of being among the first wave of Calgary’s rebuild.
“It’s pressure that I enjoy dealing with,” Klimchuk said. “I might not play a first round game … I'm not the most flashy player … but I try to bring the same thing every night. Most people in the organization know what they are going to get from me on a night-to-night basis. From the outside looking in, people who don't know the finer points of the game, the first round tag might stick out in their mind. It's just another thing along the way and something I'm real proud of.”
He’s also one of just two remaining pieces in the organization acquired in exchange for longtime Flames franchise face Jarome Iginla.
There’s pressure in that, too.
But something he wants to deliver on sooner rather than later.
“I mean, I grew up watching the Flames, so it’s hard to forget about that,” said Klimchuk, drafted with the first round pick acquired alongside Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski in the trade that sent Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the spring of 2013.
“I want to bring some value back from that. I’m looking to start my pro career this year and show what I can do.”