FlamesNation Prospect Profile: #1 Matthew Tkachuk

FN1

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.

Quotables

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.

Read more: The Flames sign Matthew Tkachuk to an entry-level deal

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.

Previously

#20Ryan Culkin #19Linus Lindstrom
#18Morgan Klimchuk #17Mason McDonald
#16Brett Pollock #15Matthew Phillips
#14Dillon Dube #13Emile Poirier
#12Brett Kulak #11Mark Jankowski
#10Brandon Hickey #9Daniel Pribyl
#8Adam Fox #7Tyler Parsons
#6Andrew Mangiapane #5Oliver Kylington
#4Rasmus Andersson #3Jon Gillies
#2Hunter Shinkaruk
  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Can’t believe we ended up with this guy!Whether he ends up with Gaudreau/Monahan or Bennett down the road – his game is suited to the possession game. I can just picture him and Bennett cycling the puck in the offensive zone, wearing down opponents for years to come.

    I also love that we are building the team with guys who are playoff performers!

    • supra steve

      And, another bonus of Tkachuk falling to 6th…no Nylander. Best of luck to him in Buffalo, and I will be following his progress, but his dad really soured me to the thought of spending such a valuable asset (6th overall) to acquire him. Would be interesting to know who the Flames would have selected had the Nucks taken Tkachuk. Juolevi? Keller? Nylander?

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Much like a lot of posters I was sure we were going to end up with Nylander and I would have been fine with that. But I am real happy we landed Tkachuk, he is more of Flames type of player. If I was a betting man I would say that Calgary was planning to take Juolevi which in my opinion would have been a bit of a let down.

        There is a rumour that the Oilers were not going to take Tkachuk or Juolevi with its pick rather the were targeting Sergeychev. I could see the Oilers taking this kind of chance.

  • knappsacked

    I know that they arent as big and strong, but tkachuk and bennett could be the nect getzlaf and perry duo. Styles compliment each other so well and they both play really skilled and really mean

  • Craig

    I’m excited to see what this kid has, Monahan came straight in, Bennett showed in the playoffs that he probably could have, so it’s going to be an interesting training camp. I still think it should be Shinkaruk this year and Tkachuk next year.

    Shink has been doing a lot of things with the Flames this year, as well as training with Van Asten so I think they’ll give him a long look.

    Can’t wait for hockey to be back!

  • Kevin R

    Christian, I think I would put Sam Bennett in the calibre of players he was able to play with in London. I think Sammy was waiting for a talent like Mathew to build that chemistry. Personally, I would like to leave Gaudreau on LW with Monahan. Put Brouwer on that line with them. For the time being I would love to see if Ferland could get his level of game up & slot in with Tkachuk & Bennett. They seem to have a very similar type skill grinding mix that could be a ton of fun to watch if they can get any chemistry going. If they do quick, Flames may have no choice but keep Mathew in the NHL after the 9 games. I would like to see Shink on a line with Backlund & Frolik. Bouma Stajan & Chiasson wouldn’t be bad on that 4th line.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Ferland is not a great player on his off-wing. He would be best playing with Backlund. Problem, as I see it, is that we have two good RW’s in Brouwer and Frolik, but neither of them is really suited for the top line. Frolik is the more obvious choice (with Brouwer on Bennett’s RW), but he hasn’t shown much chemistry with Monahan and Johnny. Limited viewing, yes, but never really shined.

      Tkachuk-Bennett-Brouwer would be a mean line. If Tkachuk only plays nine, then Shinkaruk jumps in there.

      If Frolik can play on the 1st line, then you have Ferland-Backlund-Chiasson. The 4th line could be Shinkaruk-Stajan-Bouma(Hathaway).

      • Baalzamon

        Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland was territorially dominant. Your assertion that he’s “not a great player on his off-wing” doesn’t really hold water.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          Here what I found for his usage on the top line:

          22:10 played; 51.1% Corsi For; 0 goals for, 0 goals against

          Corsi-wise, yes. Thats was in January, so I can’t speak to his stats for the rest of the season. And I also can’t tell you if he played RW or LW then. That’s also a lot of time spent with zero output from him.

          For Frolik, the results were worse Corsi, but better output:

          18:55 played; 48.4% Corsi For; 2 goals for, 2 goals against

          Even if you consider his time on the top line a win, what was he like on other lines playing off-wing?

          • piscera.infada

            What was that line’s shooting percentage when they played together? Zero percent?

            You can look at output, sure. But 22:10 worth of ice-time is an extremely small sample size (for Ferland, maybe a game and a half). You can’t claim that Ferland is so bad when paired with Monahan and Gaudreau that he tanks those two elite players’ shooting percentages to such a degree (if at all, even). The most likely explanation? Uncharacteristically poor percentages over one and a half games. Harley was known for quickly changing up combinations that didn’t pay immediate dividends (see: the Gaudreau-Bennett combo), when they probably should have been given more leash as a function of underlying performance.

          • Baalzamon

            I find those numbers highly suspect. Here’s what was on puckalytics:

            Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland (144.47 mins): 53.8% CF, 50.4% ZS, 5 GF, 6 GA, 96.3 PDO (6.17 SH%).

            Gaudreau – Monahan – Frolik (57.12 mins): 42.5% CF, 47.7% ZS, 2 GF, 5 GA, 91.5 PDO (8.70 SH%).

            Gaudreau and Monahan had a 10.95 on ice SH% without Ferland (once again, there’s no way he shoots at 3% again. There has never been a more obvious aberration, and as a result Ferland is an easy choice for a breakout season). Even with Ferland’s abhorrent shooting luck and awful goaltending, they were still only outscored by one.

            IMO, the evidence says Ferland is, by far, the best option for first line RW.

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Thanks for that. I can only remember specific games where Ferland was on the ice, but got off aftre being in the O zone for some time. But it still doesn’t answer the question as to whether Ferland played on his off-wing or whether Johnny did. That was my original point, and it won’t show up in stats.

            From what I can recall, Ferland actually played better on LW. He may have been fine on RW, but I remember him being better on LW.

  • BurningSensation

    There is a precedent to what Benning is doing in Vancouver – he is clearly trying to recreate the glory years of the franchise by making his own Cam Neely trade.

    And it turns out that Benning’s version of the Neely deal was to simply let us draft him.

    (To be perfectly fair to Benning, Dmen are much more valuable in rebuilds than wingers, and Juolevi is one hell of a player)

  • Deef

    “… the under-appreciated hero of this series: Jim Benning”

    Amen, brother!

    Nothing makes me feel better as a Flames fan than screwing the Canucks over. Funny thing is, the two clubs seem to have a very close working relationship, even though their fans hate each other.

  • For the sake of transparency, here is how I ranked prospects back when we assembled the list:

    1. Matthew Tkachuk
    2. Rasmus Andersson
    3. Jon Gillies
    4. Hunter Shinkaruk
    5. Oliver Kylington
    6. Andrew Mangiapane
    7. Adam Fox
    8. Tyler Parsons
    9. Mark Jankowski
    10. Brandon Hickey
    11. Brett Kulak
    12. Daniel Pribyl
    13. Emile Poirier
    14. Matthew Phillips
    15. Dillon Dube
    16. Linus Lindstrom
    17. Mason McDonald
    18. Morgan Klimchuk
    19. Brett Pollock
    20. Ryan Culkin

    After all this, along with further reading from other prospect analysts, I’d probably move Fox higher, drop Shinkaruk a bit, move Lindstrom up a bit, and probably remove Morgan Klimchuk completely.

    Commence yelling at me.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Here is another example of the polarizing effect of Mark Jankowski. I am curious to know why Jankowski has dropped out of the Top 5. He had a strong development camp but an average scrimmage which is hardly enough to drop him out of the top 5 but this list drops him out of the top 10 which defies reason.

      I saw an interesting approach from a blogger on Leaf Nation which I will steal for the purpose of discussion. The ranking of prospects is based on levels of a pyramid. This exercise helps us avoid the minutiae of which players are better and why.

      So here goes….

      Level 1 – Tkachuck

      Level 2 – Gillies, Jankowski, Rasmussen, Mangiapane

      Level 3 – Kyllington, Shinkaruk, Parsons, Dube, Hickey, Fox, Pourier, Prybil

      Level 4 – MacDonald, Kulak, Culkin, Lidstrom, Tuolo

      Level 5 – Klimchuk, Pollock , Phillip

      The purpose of this exercise is not to debate the players(which could be done exhaustively)rather which player belongs on which level with similarly rated prospects. Most of the debate may Center around Level 2 and Level 3 inter changeability.

  • Denscafon

    I think Tkachuck should go back to the the London Knights personally. I wasn’t a fan of the Flames burning a year off Bennett’s ELC just for 2 playoff games. Gaudreau’s ELC was shortened due to i’m assuming a clause in Gaudreau’s ELC contract that said he’d play that 1 game to burn a year. We may have a chance of making the playoffs this year but I honestly doubt we’d get very far with all the bad contracts crippling us. The year after that, we can make a real run for it, and hopefully with Tkachuck in the line up.

    One more year in the OHL without his star line mates might show us exactly what Tkachuck is really made of as well and mature/round out his skill set.

  • smatic10

    Great job with the rankings again this year guys! I just finished watching Steve Dangle’s Leaf’s prospect ranking on youtube and his “prospect pyramid” idea is pretty smart. I would love to see one of those for our Flames. Food for thought 🙂

    Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq1Rw2XBBqk

    If you don’t want to watch the vid, it basically ranks prospects in specific tiers rather than rank them in list form. So if you can’t decide who should be ranked higher between Kylington and Andersson, you can just place them in the same tier.

    • jakethesnail

      I agree…Tier could be based on projected year the players are expected to be in the NHL (may not necessarily be with the Flames). One can then ascertain the likelihood how many in any given tier could realistically be playing for the Flames. example: there may be no room on the Flames roster that season for rookies at that position (Centre, Winger, Defence, Goal).

  • Cam Notlaw

    The Flames have 6 players in their system who I believe will make big impacts. Tkachuk, Shinkaruk, Anderson, Kylington, Gillies, and Mangiapane seem to be sure fire NHL players within three years.

    The rest will probably only become interchangeable depth players or just be Heat players.

    The Darryl Sutter years of one or two definite NHL players is definitely in the rear view mirror.

    PS Is anyone else desperate to see a BFF line of the three Mikes? Backlund/Frolik/Ferland

    • DoubleDIon

      I’d actually like Ferland to play with Backlund and Frolik too. Shinaruk, Bennett and Tkachuk if he’s ready would be good. Let Brouwer get the 1st line duties for now. If Tkachuk isn’t ready we’re a winger short in terms of decent NHLers by my eyes

      • KACaribou

        I agree with you, I like Ferly with Backs and Frolik too.

        But I disagree with the thinking that Brouwer is a first line winger. If you think Ferly seemed lost there, Brouwer OMG. One guy is an up and comer, the other’s best days are behind him and those days were not sensational.

        I think Ferly has a better chance of being on the top line, but I have a real feeling about this Tkachuk kid. He seems to relish pressure.

  • Just.Visiting

    Thanks to the Flames Nations contributors for running this series. Whether we agree or disagree on some of the sequencing and exclusions, your efforts in compiling this series and the discussion it generates are very valuable.

    The series also offers us insight on the degree to which there truly is light at the end of the tunnel.

    One aspect that is particularly encouraging is the quality of prospect that didn’t get included, such as Hathaway, Tuuola, Adam Ollas Mattson, David Rittich and Nick Schneider.

  • The Fall

    Given the Flames poor start last year and the competition in the Pacific Division, it’s tough to see the Flames not skating their best possible roster to start the season. There may be room for one standout rookie. It’ll be interesting to see who make that cut.

  • cberg

    Christian,
    Overall I liked the article. Well done. I can’t help but wonder, though, what you were thinking with this statement:

    “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?”

    Obviously you have no respect for what Bennett did in his first year (after being Ranked #1 OA by Central Scouting), are ignoring Gaudreau/Monahan as partners and most of all are totally sold on Junior-level scoring and hype versus actual NHL-level results.

    Not surprising, its way too common for so many people you’ve just got to shrug it off and shake your head…

    • 1. Bennett is great but still growing. I think everyone can agree that he is not yet the dominant player he has been projected to be

      2. They signed Brouwer with the intention of playing him on the first line. It makes no sense to throw a rookie to the wolves by placing him on the first line on his off wing. His style compliments Bennett more than it does JG/SM and it’s generally a better idea to shelter him on the 2/3 rather than give him immediate 1st line status.

      3. I really don’t get what you mean by this. I said he should score between 30-40 points this year (if he even stays in the league) which is a healthy sum for any rookie. Not sute what hype you’re referring to.

  • KACaribou

    No disrespect to Shinker, but it does make me wonder why we consider a Canucks cast-off as such a high prospect for the Flames?

    He played at the end of the season, and although he did well, other players (Colborne, Ortio) who succeeded near season’s end FN disregards.

    Sorry, I have to see more of Shinker to rate him right behind Keith’s boy.

    • Stan

      Um what are you even trying to say? That Colborne or Ortio should have been ranked in Shinks spot? Even tho they arnt prospects or even with the organization anymore? Don’t get that comparison at all…

      Regardless, I don’t see how hard it is to see that Shinkaruk is one of our top prospects. He dominated junior, lit up the AHL last year and showed well during his NHL stint. What more do you want from him? Personally, I would have ranked him third: Tkachuk, Gillies, Shinkaruk, Anderrson/Kylington (tied). I think he is ranked so highly in these rankings due to his NHL readiness and potential ceiling. Although he is more of a boom/bust prospect in my eyes. Can’t wait to see how he shows in camp and preseason!!

      • KACaribou

        I don’t know how you could not understand that that correlation.

        Ortio and Colborne did well at season’s end and FN said it didn’t count basically because the games meant nothing. But when Shinker did the same it apparently counts. That’s what I was saying and you were misinterpreting.

        Vancouver spent time with Shinker like we did with Baertschi, and determined it was okay to let him go. Same thing we did with Sven basically.

        I don’t think we did the same with Johnny or Mony, so it makes me question putting Shinker so high up our rankings.

        It doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a good look, or that I don’t wish him well. I do.