We’re finally here: the end of our prospect profiles for this summer. Before we begin, let’s give a quick shout-out to the under-appreciated hero of this series: Jim Benning. Through his wondrous deeds, he has either directly (Hunter Shinkaruk via trade) or indirectly (Rasmus Andersson through a traded pick) provided the Flames with three prospects we ranked in the top four.
His most recent act of kindness, the first of the 2016-17 season, was strutting up to the NHL Draft podium and announcing “Vancouver selects, from the London Knights,” and following it up with anything other than “Matthew Tkachuk.” As many of you correctly guessed, Tkachuk is our #1 prospect for the 2016 season.
A brief history
The son of 90s NHL star Keith and product of the growing St. Louis system, success has followed Matthew wherever he has gone.
In 2013, he joined the U.S. National Juniors team at age 16 and started to find his game. Across all competitions, he racked up 50 points in 86 games. The next year, he really stepped up his game, posting 129 points in 89 games. Tkachuk was earmarked as one of the up-and-coming wunderkinds for Team USA, and started building hype for the 2016 draft two years early.
For his draft year, he headed to the OHL for some tougher competition. He immediately slotted into the London Knights’ top line with Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. The trio lit the entire CHL ablaze, with each player scoring over 100 points. Tkachuk scored the least of the three, “only” putting up 107 points in 57 games. He exploded on the Knights’ run to the Memorial Cup, scoring 40 points in 18 OHL playoff games, and scoring eight in four Cup games – one of them, of course, being the Cup winner.
Tkachuk has also been quite the superstar in international competitions. In the 2014-15 U18 WJC, he finished top five in tournament scoring with 12 points in seven games and returned home with a gold medal. The following year at the real WJC, he scored 11 in seven, sharing the Team USA scoring lead with Auston Matthews and once again finishing top five in the tournament.
From Brock Otten, of OHLprospects:
“Loved this pick up by the Flames. Tkachuk was the perfect selection when
it comes to fitting in with what they have already built on their pro
roster. Tkachuk is such a terrific player below the hash marks and he’s
going to create a ton of time and space for Calgary’s quicker skilled
forwards. His playmaking ability is just terrific and that will also
help to open up ice as he draws defenders in and to give a guy like
Johnny Gaudreau room to operate.
“The big question is, do I think he’s
ready to contribute next year? I think a lot will depend on the work he
puts in this summer. If I was a betting man, I would place it on him
needing another year in the OHL. This would allow him to get a bit
quicker, continue to explore the dominance of his physical game, and
become a consistently more effective player off the rush. Calgary has
some great young players already and I don’t see the need to rush him.
If he’s back in the OHL next year, London should still be a very
dangerous team and Tkachuk will once again be among the league’s leading
scorers. If he’s in the NHL, it will be for a reason and I think he’ll
be a 20/20 guy.”
We also asked Scott Wheeler of Future Considerations some questions about Tkachuk. First up, what is his opinion on Tkachuk’s NHL readiness?
“I do believe, if Tkachuk is as dedicated to working on his skating this summer as he says he is, that if he shows up to camp in phenomenal shape that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him surpass the 40-game plateau as a rookie. There is still room for him to blossom in London though, so the Flames have some flexibility there. With Marner and Dvorak due to graduate, London presents itself as a real challenge where Tkachuk may have the opportunity to return and be pushed to be the go-to offensive presence.”
Speaking of Marner and Dvorak, they both outscored Tkachuk. What was it that Tkachuk brought that made that line so successful? What was he better at than his linemates?
“Without question, Tkachuk’s biggest addition to the Dvorak-Marner line was his physicality and his ability to work below the goal line. If they got caught being too fancy, or Marner waited too long to make a play there was always an option to put the puck down the boards knowing that if Tkachuk was there he was going to come out with it and make a smart play. His ability to dictate along the wall, and also provide a net front presence was unique. And he wasn’t just a net front presence with size and physicality — if there was a play to be made in tight or a loose rebound he has the ability to finish it off. They were a joy to watch.”
Finally, should Tkachuk and fellow OHL draftee Sam Bennett mesh well together?
“It would depend on who the third linemate was but I think as a duo, their styles would coexist well together. Sam isn’t afraid to go to the net, and the two of them would probably come aggressively in waves while putting a ton of pucks on net. They both do a good job retrieving pucks too and while they may be young I’ve always advocated for putting talent with talent irrespective of age and experience. Skilled players, especially when one can really shoot (Tkachuk) and the other can handle the puck on entries (Bennett), find ways to make things happen and work through the kinks. They’re both so talented I doubt it would be a problem — if at all — for long.”
Finally, when Tod Button talked to Pat Steinberg on the Fan960 after the draft, he had this to say about Tkachuk:
“Matthew Tkachuk is a skill player. If he didn’t play as hard, as physically as he does, he’d still be a skill player. He’s still got a lot of skill. He’s got skill that’s hard to measure and hard to find because it’s inside skill. It’s while you’re taking a slash or you’re getting mugged from behind. He plays that Memorial Cup on one leg basically with his bad ankle and he had a shoulder problem, and he still scores that game-winning goal and he’s one of the best players in the tournament. So that kind of ability, that kind of intangibles, that kind of insides, it’s hard to find.”
And his own analysis on Tkachuk’s performance with Marner and Dvorak:
“You have to be a good player to play with good players. You can’t just put anybody with those two guys and expect them to score. And Matthew, it was a unique line in London because Matthew added a lot of stuff that those other two don’t have; going to the net, creating space, tying up defenders so they can work their magic, winning loose pucks, knocking the bigger defensemen off the puck. He’s tenacious and he was a great complement to the line, but he added a lot to that line, too.”
What comes next?
Tkachuk will almost certainly get the nine game cup of coffee in the NHL. He seems like a perfect pal for Sam Bennett, and the two could certainly light the lamp together. The question is what happens after.
Should he stay in the NHL, I think a modest 30-40 point season could be expected. He’s still a young guy on a team full of them. He’ll probably get the same treatment Sean Monahan got when he was a rookie: healthy ice time and heavy offensive zone starts.
If he returns to the OHL, it’s not necessarily a negative, as Otten said above. The Flames are probably still a year away from true contention, so if you don’t have to burn a year of Tkachuk’s ELC, don’t. He’s not likely to be the final piece for the Flames in year one of his NHL career. Back with the Knights, he should probably lead his team in scoring and finish top five in the entire league. He’ll probably be available for the Americans at the WJC too – another chance for him to be the dominant player on his team.
Read more: Some quirks in Matthew Tkachuk’s new deal
Tkachuk is going to be successful wherever he plays next year, but he has a greater goal than that. The elephant in the room regarding Tkachuk has been his teammates. In the two years he was in the U.S. program, he played with Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Colin White, Noah Hanifin, Clayton Keller, et al. In London, he was on a line with Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. Walking into 2016-17, he’ll likely be with Sam Bennett and Unknown Right Winger, who are not at the relative level (yet) of people listed above. The question for 2016-17 is: can Tkachuk produce elite numbers without stars surrounding him?
Read more: Matthew Tkachuk is preparing for September
In his draft preview, our very own Byron Bader pulled up some numbers to answer that question. What he found was that Tkachuk still put up big offensive numbers relative to the rest of the CHL draft eligibles, even with regards to primary points. On a per game basis, he was better than his peers at taking shots, scoring goals, and notching primary assists. He’ll be fine.
|#20 – Ryan Culkin||#19 – Linus Lindstrom|
|#18 – Morgan Klimchuk||#17 – Mason McDonald|
|#16 – Brett Pollock||#15 – Matthew Phillips|
|#14 – Dillon Dube||#13 – Emile Poirier|
|#12 – Brett Kulak||#11 – Mark Jankowski|
|#10 – Brandon Hickey||#9 – Daniel Pribyl|
|#8 – Adam Fox||#7 – Tyler Parsons|
|#6 – Andrew Mangiapane||#5 – Oliver Kylington|
|#4 – Rasmus Andersson||#3 – Jon Gillies|
|#2 – Hunter Shinkaruk|