Matthew Tkachuk, son of NHL legend Keith Tkachuk who played with the Jets, Coyotes, Blues and Thrashers, is most certainly going to a western Canadian team in the 2016 NHL draft. Nearly every draft ranking and mock draft thus far has him going between fourth and sixth. There’s a good chance the Flames end up with him, especially if the Oilers and/or Canucks decide a defenseman is their need with their first pick.
The 6’1” 195 pound LW is a December baby and, while he’s not the oldest player in the draft (this honor belongs to Auston Matthews), he’s definitely one of the older players available. Most highly-touted prospects every year tend to be older than their peers.
In 2014-15, Tkachuk played with the US National Development team as part of the USHL program. There, he amassed 129 points over the course of 89 games, giving him a combined NHLE of 32 (based on a translation of 0.27). Those are very good numbers for a 17-year-old season.
For his draft year, Tkachuk moved over to the OHL to play with the London Knights. He and fellow stud linemates Mitch Marner (2015 fourth overall pick by Toronto) and Christian Dvorak (2014 58th overall pick by Arizona) formed the deadliest line in the entire CHL. Tkachuk put up 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games with the Knights. He also scored 40 points in 18 playoff games en route to London’s OHL Championship. It was an incredibly impressive season with totals that would generally lead a team in scoring – but not this year, as both Marner and Dvorak outpaced Tkachuk.
In fact, this is not the first time that Tkachuk has been overshadowed by incredible linemates, therefore making it difficult to gauge how much of the bus he’s driving. In his 17-year-old USHL season he played significant time with Auston Mattews, a possible generational prospect that put up record breaking numbers that year.
So what’s the deal with Tkachuk? How good is he and what can we expect?
“Strong on the puck, good playmaker who gets to the net and finishes. Tenacious, good in traffic and sticks up for himself and teammates… just like his dad.” – Todd Warriner
“Tkachuk is a highly skilled winger with two-way capabilities. A player who combines a strong work ethic with tremendous hockey sense to be effective in all three zones, Tkachuk excels both as a playmaker and goal scorer. Tkachuk boasts an excellent shot that combines a quick and deceptive release with strong accuracy and impressive velocity. Tkachuk also protects the puck effectively, shows above average puck control and makes good decisions in possession. Tenacious on the forecheck, Tkachuk shows a willingness to engage physically and will use his size to his advantage excelling on net drives off the rush, while also showing no hesitance to play in and through traffic.” – Mike Mackley
“His skill in possession, relentless puck pursuit and impressively quick (and smart) hockey mind allows him to process plays quicker than his peers and dominate possession time.” – Anthony Mauro
“He really knows where to go and it’s rare to find a player that age with that type of ability. He plays a lot like his father, Keith… has a lot of the characteristics that James Van Riemsdyk possessed in his draft year.” – Mke Morreale
“No doubting his offensive skills but slides down my list because of benefits by playing with Dvorak and Marner.” – Manny Paiva
“As good as Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak are, Matthew Tkachuk might be this year’s Knight ‘MVP’. He has added another dimension to an already gifted team, and they’ve been unstoppable offensively as a result. Love the way he plays with both power and finesse. Tkachuk’s relentless on loose pucks and excellent at lifting them off defenders to create turnovers. He’s going to excel in the NHL sooner rather than later because of his maturity.” – Scott Wheeler
We can see that the scouting reports are all over. Most agree that Tkachuk has a great compete level, he has finesse and sandpaper, and he can shoot and make plays, but it’s a mixed bag between him being propped up by his linemates and him being his own driver and creating substantial opportunities for himself and the line.
Goals: 30 (23rd in the OHL)
Assists: 77 (2nd in the OHL)
Points: 107 (5th in the OHL)
ES Points: 59%
PP Points: 41%
% In on Total London Goals: 34%
Here’s a breakdown of every player in the past 12 years to have a true draft year NHLE of 40 or more, and their corresponding career NHL PPG rate (the blanks in the second chart are players that have yet to play in the NHL). Tkachuk’s 46 NHLE is located right in the middle of this very elite group of players, right there with Taylor Hall, John Tavares, Dylan Strome and Bryan Little. If we look at the career PPG of this group of players it’s exceptional (0.78), which is double the PPG rate of NHLers with 100 games under their belt drafted from 2004 to 2014 (0.38).
Another thing you’ll notice is there are no busts (players that didn’t or won’t soon make the 200 game mark). Not one. All of the players in this cohort have made the NHL and scored at least at an average rate (0.4+ PPG).
I know the concern: Sam Gagner’s on this list. Remember he and Patrick Kane played together in London and Gagner’s stats benefited tremendously from Kane. It’s the elephant in the room – his linemates are incredible and are propping him up. That’s the obvious concern. Let’s discuss that next.
Here’s a breakdown of relevant stats (via prospect-stats.com) to compare Tkachuk vs. Marner and Dvorak, as well as all other OHLers that registered at least one primary point per game (Konecny, Strome, MacInnis, Bracco, Mangiapane, Crouse, Dal Colle, Garlent, Zacha, Lemieux, Amaldo, Watson, DeBrincat, Fischer and Labanc). What stands out?
The line as a whole pretty much demolished the others at every level. It was a very, very good line. The others in this group did beat out Tkachuk in some instances but the majority of the players in this group are in their D+1 or D+2 years. Even Marner and Dvorak fall in this category.
Let’s look specifically at Tkachuk vs. Marner and Dvorak. Let’s assume that Marner is obviously driving a big part of the bus here. Nobody has disputed this and Marner certainly sounds like the linchpin of the entire line.
With that in mind let’s compare Tkachuk and Dvorak. While Tkachuk was not far behind his linemates in overall points per game, he was significantly behind both in primary points and his secondary assists were astronomically high – higher than his linemates and over two standard deviations higher than the rest of the average of the group. That’s not great news. But look at his shooting percentage compared to Dvorak’s – 16% vs. 27%. You could argue that given the playmaking ability of Marner and the ability of the line as a whole to generate goals, he’s unlucky to have scored only 30 goals.
Other positives? Dvorak is significantly older than Tkachuk (nearly two whole years older), so if we look at age adj. primary points Tkachuk is far ahead of Dvorak. These three also created an exceptionally potent powerplay as nearly half their goals came on the man advantage. However, of the three Tkachuk was the least reliant on powerplay points as 41% of his points came on the man advantage, compared to 44% of Marner’s and 51% of Dvorak’s.
Also, Dvorak shares the same unfortunate elite linemate problem as Tkachuk, as he played with Tkachuk and Marner this year, and played with Marner and Domi last year.
I’ve only seen Tkachuk and the Knights play a few times but one thing that I noticed that comes out in the scouting reports is that Tkachuk is a heavy forechecker. In the times that I watched them, Tkachuk was always first in on the puck, digging and prying it out to find his teammates. If we assume that Marner is the playmaker and Dvorak, based on his goal totals, is the trigger man, this makes perfect sense why Tkachuk’s secondary assist rate is so high, as he’s likely often digging the puck out to find the other two.
It’s difficult to tell if his secondary assist rate is bad or not but having a guy that can dig the puck out of the boards with great regularity and start the tic-tac-toe play could be hugely beneficial, especially with Calgary possessing an elite playmaker and trigger man combo already.
So this is how Tkachuk compares to his linemates, and the very best in the OHL. But how does he compare to players his own age… the elite OHLers in his draft class? Below is the same breakdown as above but includes all draft eligible players in the OHL who registered a point per game or higher: Kyle Maksimovich, Taylor Raddysh, Alex Nylander, Michael McLeod, Logan Brown, Alex DeBrincat and Adam Mascherin.
In this regard, Tkachuk blows his peers out of the water in nearly every category. Propped up by his linemates or not, Tkachuk is still the best offensive draft eligible forward of the OHL this year.
Tkachuk is an interesting case. He seems to be exactly what Calgary needs: a big, strong winger (not a right handed shot unfortunately), with a great forecheck that can possess the puck and find his teammates to create scoring chances.
But it’s difficult to tell what impact he has on the game as he’s essentially only played with elite linemates the past two years. His secondary assists are likely inflated a little, which is probably, in turn, inflating his scoring and corresponding NHLE. However, even if his secondary assist rate resembled something like Marner’s (0.44 per game) his NHLE would drop but only slightly, to somewhere around the low 40s. That still keeps him firmly in the category of “this guy will play in the NHL and will likely be an impact scorer”.
Scoring like this in junior is elite and among this game-breaker group (40+ NHLE in true draft year) Gagner and Yakupov are the exceptions, not the rule. If neither of Vancouver or Edmonton pick a defenseman with their picks I don’t think there’s any way this guy makes it to the Flames. If he does I think we should be ecstatic… he could be an absolutely perfect fit.