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Trio set to push for pro spots

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- As much fun as Morgan Klimchuk has had in parts of five seasons of his Western Hockey League career, the 20-year-old is ready to join the pro ranks.

Klimchuk is one of a handful of Calgary Flames prospects hopeful to make the jump from junior to pro.

“I’m excited for that,” said Klimchuk, selected in the first round (No. 28) in the 2013 NHL Draft. “I still have to come into camp and make the impressions to make that jump. I’m definitely having a good summer here so far training with the Flames staff. It’s going real well.”

Klimchuk, who has 261 career junior games under his belt with the Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, is up for the challenge.

Hunter Smith, who captured the Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals in May, is ready for the same.

The 19-year-old, drafted in the second round (No. 54) in 2014, feels he’s accomplished all he can at the junior level and is hopeful to join the Stockton Heat next season, Calgary’s AHL affiliate.

“I don’t really see myself heading back to Oshawa at this point. Obviously the decision isn’t going to be made by me but I can control my own destiny and can put myself in the position to be a pro,” Smith said. “I’m at a point now where I’m ready to make it to the next level, and at the worst playing at the AHL level next year.”

Chalk up Austin Carroll as one who hopes to do the same.

Carroll, 21, has 268 games of WHL experience under his belt with the Victoria Royals and will graduate to the pro ranks by way of age.

He’s started the preparation.

“I think it was big to go back to junior and have a good development year being a role guy,” Carroll said. “There’s a few things I need to change going into the pros, attention to detail, that stuff and doing the little things right. That’s key.

“The organization and all the staff say you’ve got to be a pro, when you’re on the ice and off the ice. You’ve got to prepare mentally. You’ve got to know it’s a big step and you’ve got to prepare every way you can, not just in the gym.”

It’ll be up to the trio to impress in their first pro attempts.

Heat coach Ryan Huska, whom the trio will hope to impress, has seen both sides of the scenario.

As head coach of the Kelowna Rockets from 2007-14, Huska routinely saw his junior-aged players graduate to the pro ranks. Now coaching in the American Hockey League, Huska is receiving those players.

He understands the obstacles.

“A lot of it is handling the pro life by living on their own and having to really understand the different things they have to do to get themselves to the next level,” Huska said. “You can almost look at their first couple years like their first few years of junior. They learn a lot in a short period of time. You want to see them, as they get closer to the end of their first contracts, start making steps where they can be elite and they can play against the top guys and do a good job with that. You get the belief and feeling that they’re going to go onto some things that are pretty special.”

Carroll’s eager to try to prove just that.

“It’s nice having time off but I’m itching to get back to prove to myself and prove to everyone here that I can play at that pro level,” he said.

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