PENTICTON, B.C. - One year after leaving his native Belarus for Canada's west coast, Vancouver Canucks prospect Danila Klimovich just had his "best summer" ever.
"I love Vancouver," the 19-year-old told reporters Saturday in Penticton, following the Canucks' prospects practice at the Young Stars Classic. "I drove around Vancouver, and I went to Tofino. It's a pretty good summer."
Offseason activities included surfing and hiking, including the infamous Grouse Grind. "It's not so easy," he chuckled, saying he completed the popular 1.5-mile mountainside climb in a solid "43 or 44 minutes."
A power forward who's now listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Klimovich exploded into the consciousness of NHL scouts at the 2021 World U-18 Championship in Texas, where he put up six goals in five games for his native Belarus.
Ahead of the 2021 draft, he was ranked 19th among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting. The Canucks made him their top pick when they selected him in the second round, 41st overall.
After arriving in North America last fall, Klimovich settled in with the first-year Abbotsford Canucks, 90 minutes east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley.
It wasn't an easy season. As the Abbotsford brain trust worked to build a foundation for the new club after Vancouver relocated its AHL affiliation from Utica, N.Y., the inaugural campaign was disrupted by devastating flooding in the Abbotsford region in mid-November.
Games were postponed and players stepped up to help with community relief efforts. Then, in late December, a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in additional postponements.
Amidst all that, Klimovich was being challenged by his adjustment to Canadian culture, thousands of miles from family and friends back home.
"I tried to not be sad and just be positive, then sometimes it was stress," he said. "It was very, very tough (but) I think I'm done with it."
As the youngest player in the AHL last season, Klimovich posted 8-18-18 in 63 games with Abbotsford. Head coach Trent Cull scratched him in the playoffs, electing to go with a more experienced lineup as the Canucks were swept in their first-round best-of-three series against the Bakersfield Condors.
But Klimovich still considers the year to have been a success.
"Of course I am happy, because I played with pro guys," he said. "Last year, before Canada? I played junior in Belarus. Yeah. It's a big step for me."
He refused to use his youth as an excuse.
"Doesn't matter when you're born," he said. "You need to play hockey."
Jeremy Colliton moves behind the bench as Abbotsford's new head coach this fall, as Cull takes on an assistant coach role in Vancouver. But Klimovich is grateful for Cull's support during his rookie year.
"I very (much) appreciate him," he said. "He helped me (very) much. I'm very glad my first year was (with) that coach."
Off the ice, life was also a whirlwind. In April, he married his partner Nastassia Bartsevich in an outdoor ceremony at Cultus Lake, B.C., with many of his teammates in attendance. Vasily Podkolzin of the NHL Canucks served as his best man at the ceremony, while the girlfriend of Abbotsford forward Karel Plasek was Nastassia's maid of honor.
During on-ice training this summer, "I tried to improve my shot," he said. "Almost every day, I'm going to the shooting zone. And coach sent me D-zone play. I tried to watch video."
On Friday night, the Canucks opened their Young Stars tournament with a 3-0 shutout win over the Calgary Flames prospects. Klimovich was a physical force early on, and picked up a third-period assist when he set up linemate Tristen Nielsen for the 2-0 insurance marker with 2:06 left to play.
To play as aggressively as he wants, he'll need to work himself into game shape.
"The first period was good forechecking," he said, "but in the third period I lost my energy a little bit — because we don't play. It's my first game."
Off the ice this summer, Klimovich and his wife took English lessons three times a week, and the work has paid off. On Saturday, he handled himself well in his first-ever media session without assistance from an interpreter — yet another achievement as his adjustment to life in North America and pro hockey continues.
Klimovich and the rest of the Canucks prospects return to the ice at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, facing the Winnipeg Jets. They'll wrap up their Young Stars schedule Monday against the Edmonton Oilers (5:30 p.m. ET).
Both games will be livestreamed at canucks.com.