Morgan Klimchuk aims to be 'the hardest working guy on the ice' - and this drive and tenacity have been on display throughout a solid sophomore WHL season.
The Calgary native has also shown off his speed and goal-scoring abilities, and steadily enhanced his stock for the upcoming 2013 NHL Draft.
His career-high 31 goals are an impressive feat given his Regina Pats are among the league's lowest-scoring teams.
In fact, of the 24 WHLers to crack 30 goals so far this season, only two players have scored a greater percentage of their team's goals than Klimchuk.
Winnipeg Jets third-rounder Adam Lowry has accounted for a whopping 23.1 percent of Swift Current's goals (40 of 173), while Klimchuk currently ranks third among the 30-goal club having scored 19.5 percent of Regina's 159 goals. Pats' teammate Lane Scheidl is second at 20.7 percent (33 of 159).
Coincidentally, league goal-scoring leader Brendan Leipsic is at 15.1 percent (44 of 292) with Nicolas Petan and his 43 goals right behind at 14.7 percent.
McKeen’s: Where did you play your minor hockey?
Klimchuk (MK): I played all my minor hockey in Calgary, first with the Shaw Metal’s Lightning right up until I reached bantam, and from there I played for the Calgary Buffaloes.
McKeen’s: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming from minor hockey, to playing in the WHL for the Regina Pats?
MK: Well the speed, and of course the strength of the guys in this league are tough to handle and you have to get stronger in order to keep up with that. I had to work a little extra on both my skating and my off-ice weight training to get stronger in both areas.
McKeen’s: Did you set any personal or team goals at the beginning of the season ?
MK: I try not to focus on the personal goals too much, team wise, it’s really big for us to make the playoffs this season, and that’s really what I’m focused on.
McKeen’s: How much international experience have you had with Team Canada at the under-17 or under-16 tournaments?
MK: Yes, I had the honor in both the U-16’s and U-17’s, and it was a great learning experience to play against the best international players for your country. I have taken what I’ve learned from these experiences into major junior here with the Pats.
McKeen’s: What are the major differences for playing at the International level, compared with the WHL club level in major junior?
MK: For sure, at the International level, the arena's are much bigger and you have more room out there, so it’s that much faster and a lot more skilled players you have to worry about. In the WHL, it’s fast, but much more physically demanding and defensive minded.
McKeen’s: You are a top 10 WHL draft-eligible prospect, and a top prospect for the NHL draft. How does that make you feel to be considered in that group?
MK: It’s an honor, I mean this will be another great draft year in the WHL, and just to have my name in there being compared to the other great players is very special, and I just look forward to how things will end up in June.
McKeen’s: Does it bother you that several NHL scouts will be watching and analyzing your game night after night?
MK: No, not really I try to be consistent and play the game the same every night. It’s good to know they are there, but I put it at the back of my mind.
McKeen’s: How important is off-ice training in the weight room and more specifically the development of core strength, to help battle bigger players by getting stronger in key areas of your body?
MK: That’s huge, I take my off-ice training very seriously. I train in the off season during the summer 5 days a week, along with yoga, which helps with balance, and the extra strength in the core will help when facing bigger players.
McKeen’s: What’s the strongest part of your game, and what are the things you want to work on?
MK: The strongest part of my game is my tenacity and work ethic. I’m always battling for pucks and I never want to give up on a play, and I just want to be the hardest working guy on the ice. The things I want to work on is my skating, especially my first four steps. It’s something that I have been working on over the past summer. I know coming into this year that I needed to improve on that if I’m going to play at the next level.
McKeen’s: I’ve observed that you have good hands to finish around the net, and also a great quick release shot. Do you constantly work on this with coaching staff and your linemates in practice?
MK: Yes, for sure, you don’t get a lot of time and space in this league to move the puck, and you have to let it go when you have the chance or an opening. And yes, I do work a lot with the coaches and my teammates to maneuver myself to get in position to get my shot away quick and accurate.
McKeen’s: Who has the greatest impact on your hockey career to date?
MK: I would have to say coach Pat Conacher, he taught me how to play defense. And how to round out my game, and he has been able to teach and show me what to expect for what it will be like at the pro level.
McKeen’s: What is it like to play for a team that is steeped in tradition like the Regina Pats?
MK: It’s huge, we take pride in the jersey we put on every night, and the legacy and tradition that goes along with that. We are playing for the Regina Pats, it’s one of the most cherished franchises in junior hockey, so you have to show up each night so as you're not embarrassing the team and yourself.
McKeen’s: How important is it to learn and play defense in order to become a complete player, and to go on and play at the pro level?
MK: Coach Conacher really stresses this, when I came into the league last year I needed to work on that. He made it simple for me and told me that he knew I could score goals, but playing at both ends of the ice is what it will take to play at the next level, and that I would have to do that here in order to earn ice time. It has worked out well for me, and I credit Pat for stressing how important that part of the game is, in order to play at the next level.
McKeen’s: Was there any player that you watched growing up that you admired and wanted to pattern your game after?
MK: I love the way Jonathan Toews plays, and the leadership role that he brings to his team each and every game. Just how he competes every game, he was one of the youngest captains to win a Stanley Cup, so I really admire his style of play.
McKeen’s: How important is play away from the puck, especially in the neutral ice area?
MK: You have to find open seams and holes throughout the neutral zone and look for passes from your teammates, as well as being responsible in that part of the ice defensively, to prevent odd man rushes.
McKeen’s: Do you pay much attention to the various rankings from scouting services throughout the season or do you just look ahead to draft day in June?
MK: You really can’t look too far ahead - or at the rankings at any given time. It’s a 72-game season , so things will likely change throughout the season. I take things day to day, obviously, you hear other players talking about it, but I try to focus on other things.
McKeen’s: Is there any other sports or things you like to do in the off season?
MK: In my spare time, I like to get away to play a little paintball for some fun. But I really just try to focus on hockey for much of my time.