When Morgan Klimchuk arrived in Regina last year as a rookie, he knew there was pressure on his shoulders to follow the footsteps of Pats legendary scorers Jordan Eberle and Jordan Weal, who was in his 19-year-old season at the time.
“I knew, being a high draft pick, the team and fans were hoping for me to become a key player for them,” said Klimchuk, who was selected fifth overall in the 2010 bantam draft. “Eberle did so much for the organization and has gone on to become a great player in the NHL (with the Edmonton Oilers). I got to play with Weal last year as a rookie and I know firsthand how talented he is and how much of an impact he makes. But I didn’t think of it as I have to be the next Eberle or Weal. I tried not to focus on it and just work hard and try to continue to grow as a player.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound winger isn’t trying to become “the next Jordan Eberle,” but he looks up to him and has tried to emulate parts of his game after the Oilers’ 2008 first-round pick.
“Eberle is a role model of mine,” said Klimchuk. “I really like his work ethic. I trained with him with Crash Conditioning in Calgary. I got to see how hard he works and what he does to push himself. I also think I play a bit like him. He creates space and is at the right place at the time right time a lot.”
Similar to Eberle when he was playing for the Queen City Kids, Klimchuk has stood out for his goal-scoring ability and work ethic.
“I think he’s a franchise player because of his talent and hard work,” said Pats GM Chad Lang in an interview with BTN in March. “He’s earned everything he’s gotten. He works hard and is really dedicated to the game. He’s always looking for ways to improve.”
The biggest knock on Klimchuk in his rookie season with the Pats was that he lacked physicality and didn't play with enough grit. The Calgary, Alta., native was fully aware of this and tried to improve on his weakness as a sophomore.
“I wanted to play with more of an edge in my second year with the Pats,” said Klimchuk, who is ranked 25th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I tried to be more physical and play with more willingness to get into the dirty areas to score goals and create scoring opportunities this year. That’s still something I’m working on."
Klimchuk's improvement in the dirty areas and boosted confidence translated to his stats sheet. He scored 40 more points than his rookie season in Regina, racking up 36 goals and 76 points in 72 games this year.
"I was more comfortable this year, knowing what to expect from last year," he said. "I felt I had more patience with the puck. I think I was better in puck battles, too. This helped me around the net and along the wall."
The 18-year-old carried over his scoring success to Team Canada in the U18 tournament in Russia. He finished tied for sixth in points with three goals and eight points in seven games.
“I was happy with how I played," said Klimchuk. "I was put in a position where I could succeed and was surrounded with great talent. When you play with very talented players like (Erie Otters star) Connor McDavid and (Kootenay Ice centre) Sam Reinhart, you want to elevate your game and that’s what I think I did.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m definitely an offensive forward. I’m a player who produces points and creates offensive opportunities. I also think I’m a player that can be put in almost any situation. I can play on the penalty kill and as a defensive forward to hold a lead.”
2. When you were playing for Canada at the U18 tournament, did you feel you needed an impressive showing to receive a strong look next year for Canada’s world junior team?
“I didn’t go in thinking that, but it was in the back of my mind. I tried to focus just on helping the team win and making an impact. It definitely is a goal of mine to make Team Canada next year, though. I knew it was a great opportunity to get on the map for that with Hockey Canada watching.”
3. Who is your favourite NHL team?
“I’m a Calgary Flames fan because I grew up watching them in Calgary. My parents had season-tickets and I’d try to catch as many games as I could.”
4. While growing up in Calgary, were you close with the other 2013 draft superstars such as Medicine Hat Tigers forward Hunter Shinkaruk, Prince Albert Raiders blueliner Josh Morrissey and Swift Current Broncos defenceman Dillon Heatherington?
“I have played spring hockey with Morrissey and Heatherington. We’ve become pretty good friends. I also trained with Morrissey at Crash Conditioning. I don’t know Shinkaruk that well, but I’ve played against him in Calgary in minor hockey.”
5. What’s your favourite movie?
“I have to go with Law Abiding Citizen. I think it’s a great movie because it keeps you guessing. I like movies that keep you interested right until the end.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen