Can Matthew Tkachuk make the NHL right away?

It isn’t common for players to make the NHL right out of their draft year. Out of the Flames’ current kids, Sean Monahan was the only one to achieve that feat. The rest of their current core took longer to reach where they now are.

This isn’t a bad thing, though. Typically, only a handful of players actually make the NHL right after they’re drafted. The first overall picks always do, plus a handful of others – almost always only guys chosen in the top 10.

Does Matthew Tkachuk have what it takes? Maybe – let’s take a look at what players who made the NHL immediately this decade have in common.

Note that this doesn’t include players who stuck around for nine-game tryouts and were subsequently sent back down – these are all players who burned a year of their entry-level contracts.

2010

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Taylor Hall 1 Nov. 14 6’1″ 194 lbs. LW 1.9 (OHL)
Tyler Seguin 2 Jan. 31 6’1″ 182 lbs. C 1.7 (OHL)
Jeff Skinner 7 May 16 5’10” 193 lbs. LW 1.4 (OHL)
Alexander Burmistrov 8 Oct. 21 6’1″ 180 lbs. C 1.0 (OHL)
Cam Fowler 12 Dec. 5 6’1″ 190 lbs. D 1.0 (OHL)

Every player to step straight into the NHL from the 2010 draft came out of the first round, were of decent size, were all at least a point per game or higher, and out of the OHL. Skinner is the only exception among the group in that he was notably younger than the other four; while Burmistrov and Hall were among the older members of the draft class, Skinner, by being a spring birthday, skewed towards the younger end.

2011

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1 Apr. 12 6’0″ 171 lbs. C 1.5 (WHL)
Gabriel Landeskog 2 Nov. 23 6’1″ 204 lbs. LW 1.2 (OHL)
Adam Larsson 4 Nov. 12 6’3″ 197 lbs. D 0.2 (SEL)
Sean Couturier 8 Dec. 7 6’3″ 197 lbs. C 1.7 (QMJHL)
Andrew Shaw* 139 Jul. 20 5’10” 180 lbs. C 0.8 (OHL)

* Shaw was 19 years old when he was drafted, and he spent half of his season in the AHL.

Shaw aside, every player is once again from the first round, and is a bit bigger (Nugent-Hopkins’ weight – and youth, for that matter – aside). Larsson was the only one to not put up particularly great offensive numbers, but he was already playing professionally at that point – though it’s worth noting that after his draft+1 season, he bounced up and down between the AHL and NHL. The 2015-16 season was his first full season in the NHL, in fact.

2012

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Nail Yakupov 1 Oct. 6 5’11” 185 lbs. RW 1.6 (OHL)
Alex Galchenyuk 3 Feb. 12 6’0″ 194 lbs. C 1.3** (OHL)
Mikhail Grigorenko 12 May 16 6’3″ 200 lbs. C 1.4 (QMJHL)

** This is from Galchenyuk’s draft-1 year – he was injured throughout his draft year.

It should also be noted this draft is an oddity, as there was a lockout that wiped out half of the season following it. (Also, there was some questions surrounding Grigorenko’s age, and if he was lying about being as young as he was.)

2013

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Nathan MacKinnon 1 Sept. 1 6’0″ 182 lbs. C 1.7 (QMJHL)
Aleksander Barkov 2 Sept. 2 6’3″ 209 lbs. C 0.9 (SM-liiga)
Seth Jones 4 Oct. 3 6’3″ 205 lbs. D 0.9 (WHL)
Elias Lindholm 5 Dec. 2 6’0″ 192 lbs. C 0.6 (SEL)
Sean Monahan 6 Oct. 12 6’2″ 187 lbs. C 1.3 (OHL)
Rasmus Ristolainen 8 Oct. 27 6’4″ 207 lbs. D 0.3 (SM-liiga)
Valeri Nichushkin 10 March 4 6’4″ 202 lbs. RW 0.3 (KHL)

The 2013 draft was a pretty big one for players immediately making it (although Ristolainen did spend half of his season in the AHL). Most of the players are older, although both MacKinnon and Barkov were actually among the youngest members of the draft class. Still, all seven players to immediately make the leap were pretty big, with four of them already playing professionally. And again, of course, all were top 10 picks.

2014

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Aaron Ekblad 1 Feb. 7 6’3″ 216 lbs. D 0.9 (OHL)
Leon Draisaitl*** 3 Oct. 27 6’1″ 204 lbs. C 1.6 (WHL)
David Pastrnak 25 May 25 6’0″ 167 lbs. RW 0.7 (SWE-1)

*** Draisaitl was sent back to the WHL after 37 games.

I should also note that Pastrnak split time between the NHL and AHL, though he’s clearly the exception to this relatively small group, being taken towards the end of the first round, younger, and notably smaller.

2015

Player # Overall Birthday Height Weight Position Draft Year PPG
Connor McDavid 1 Jan. 13 6’0″ 195 lbs. C 2.6 (OHL)
Jack Eichel 2 Oct. 28 6’2″ 196 lbs. C 1.8 (NCAA)
Noah Hanifin 5 Jan. 25 6’2″ 203 lbs. D 0.6 (NCAA)
Daniel Sprong*** 46 Mar. 17 6’0″ 180 lbs. RW 1.3 (QMJHL)

*** Sprong went back to the QMJHL after 18 games.

Again: earlier picks, none particularly young for their class, and all a bit bigger – though this is the first time we’re seeing college kids pop up.

Matthew Tkachuk

Tkachuk was taken sixth overall. He’s a Dec. 11 birthday, so he isn’t among the youngest of his draft class – in fact, due to being a December birthday, his only options for next seasons are playing in the OHL or NHL (but because of said birthday, he’s AHL-eligible for 2017-18). He’s listed as 6’1″ and 202 lbs., so he’s definitely on the bigger side, and his draft year point-per-game was 1.9.

All in all, Tkachuk shares a lot in common with most of the few players who have been able to make the jump straight to the NHL after being drafted. This doesn’t make him a lock, but it probably does help his chances. He’s a relatively high first rounder already of NHL size, and while his points per game were probably inflated by his linemates, he still has one of the highest out of anyone who actually has immediately made the NHL in this decade: tied with Hall, and only bested by McDavid.

We know the Flames have a need for high-end wingers, which is exactly what Tkachuk projects to be. So really, there shouldn’t be anything holding him back this training camp – it’ll be strictly up to him to make the team, and convince the Flames he deserves to go beyond nine games after that.

  • BurningSensation

    I think he’s one of the best three LW on the team already, and stays the whole year.

    If he can legit play RW, he’ll get extended time with Monny+Johnny

  • Backburner

    I read an article about him coming to Calgary a week in advance of the Young Stars Tournament just to get some skating in with the big boys. To me that shows he’s focused and determined on making the team. I think at the very least he will get the 10 game cup of coffee at the beginning of the season so we will see him in action.

    • The Fall

      I’ve said this before, but given the Flames poor start last season, I don’t see them gifting any early games to rookies just to ‘see what they’ve got’. They know exactly the type of player Matt is…

      This team will ice a starting line-up with the best chance of winning: immediately. The opening weeks are a lot softer than the last weeks of the schedule.

      • Backburner

        I agree, that’s what the pre-season is for. It gives every rookie a chance to show if they can play at the NHL level.

        However the 10 game window is there for any player, not just rookies, to get there feet wet before the Coaches/ Management make a decision to send them down or not.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    The one thing I noticed from this article is how bad the oilers have been. It really puts it in perspective seeing all those hight picks in a row. Truly a decade of suck and still picking low again this year ahead of the flames. If they do improve it was basically given to them because they sure didn’t work for it

  • beloch

    If you include the playoffs, Tkachuck scored at a pace of 1.96 ppg, which is a bit ahead of Hall’s 1.86 ppg pace (also including playoffs). The only other player on this page to score at a higher pace was McDavid.

    The real question is: how much does Tkachuk owe to the incredibly stacked line he played on last season? This is not easy to answer in a quantitative manner. However, it’s difficult to believe that Tkachuk’s NHLE (51.4) is so inflated that, had he played with Monahan’s linemates, it would have dipped below Monahan’s NHLE (35.3).

    RW (or LW) is an easier position for a rookie to jump into than center. Tkachuk has a real chance to make the NHL out of camp this season. It all depends on how well he has trained this summer. The fitness testing results from today should, when they’re posted, give us our first solid indication of how ready Tkachuk is.

    Bottom line, I think it’s okay to get a little bit excited.

    • Burnward

      Damn Skippy. Along with being a stud on the ice, kid has leader/natural alpha male off it.

      He’ll beat you up, take your woman…but pay your bill.

      Straight up hockey player.

  • Kensington

    Do the flames want to burn the first year of the ELC? Monahan was badly needed and his start was incredible so I understand burning his first year. S.B. had his first year burnt in what I would call a questionable decision at best. With all the young guys the flames have and the dollars they are getting after their ELC expires it can’t be taken lightly the multi millions Tkachuk will want one year earlier if he makes the team this year. With Hunter S. older and perhaps a viable player for this year if they show equally I would send Tkachuk down for the year. J.G. had his first year burnt for playing one game and now it will cost the Flames 7 million or so for this year. I don’t think the Flames had any choice with JG as burning the first year was probably a big part of JG signing and the Flames not losing his rights. While it would be nice for this not to be an issue and the best players make the team it has to be considered IMO.

    • wot96

      Not sure the decision to burn a year was questionable. Johnny burned a year but was left without arbitration rights. Maybe the situation is different as Tkachuk is a first rounder but if not, that’s not necessarily a bad call.

      Moreover, the team window may just be to Brodie’s next contract so if he is really a top six winger on this team, how is that not worth it?

      • Kensington

        In a few years JG,SM,SB,MT,TJB,MG,DH will all probably be making 6+ million a year. This years cap space is being reduced by at least $10 million due to JG and SM getting past their elc “one year early”. SB will also be one year early and chew up another 6 million of cap space “one year early”. All I am saying is that the Flames need to consider the ramifications of these players reaching the end of their ELCs early as it effects the ability of the flames to spend this money else where to upgrade their talent. How much value does an 18 year old really add?

        • piscera.infada

          That whole argument is kind of circular reasoning though. For the record, I happen to agree with you in certain circumstances, but there are other issues to consider here.

          Let’s assume for a minute here that Gaudreau, Monahan, and Bennett didn’t “burn” that early year of their ELC. One could very reasonably (based on current evidence) expect the following to occur:

          Gaudreau breaks in with his current point-per-game rate over the last two seasons. This upcoming season he either betters that or remains roughly the same. He’s now worth more in the 2017/18 season to re-sign as an RFA. He also has arbitration rights.

          Monahan, fresh out of junior is now beginning his ELC with Gaudreau. Both of them end up on a line, as happened anyway. We can reasonably assume that Monahan’s production stays at least the same over those three years, if not increases as a rookie playing with Gaudreau. Perhaps his third year peaks as well, as a function of being with Gaudreau for three seasons as opposed to two.

          Bennett on the other hand is a bit of a wild card. I believe this year (his second year) will see a reasonable increase in production similar to Monahan between the first and second years (roughly 25 more points). That puts Bennett at a ~60 point pace this year. Similar to the above logic with Gaudreau, how much more expensive is two years of 60-ish points, versus one year of 60-ish points for Bennett? I would also argue that Treliving might try to forgo this, and sign Bennett to a second and long-term contract during this season to keep his cap-hit down.

          So essentially, the contracts are at the very least the same–with potential for them all to be considerably more. I don’t see a situation where the contracts would be considerably less though. So you’re right, those second contracts are all “one year early”, but really, how important is that one year for the current incarnation of the Flames? Probably not much. I mean, were they really going to use that additional cap space spent on both Gaudreau and Monahan this season to sign a bunch of UFAs? Again, probably not.

          You could conceivably argue that the Gaudreau/Monahan extensions would be better negotiated with Wideman, Smid, Engelland off the books, but I’m not sure how much that changes anything vis-a-vis the current state of the franchise. They would essentially have more cap-space for one extra season, but a majority of that would still have to be earmarked for these important extensions anyway.

          Back to Tkachuk though, I would argue that in three (or four) years time that “one year early”, could make a huge difference, so I agree with you there. However, it still comes down to if the player is ready in my mind. I personally don’t think Tkachuk is, but I haven’t seen him play against NHL competition. I’m more likely than not to believe that the Flames give him some games early in the season, and then send him back barring the miraculous.

          In short, I get the argument you’re making here, and I tend to agree in theory. It just may have actually worked out for the Flames by happenstance to some degree though (less so with Monahan).

          • Kensington

            Appreciate your comments and realize its not a black and white decision. The team I look at that always developed their prospects for years before they played in the NHL is Detroit and they have had a great run for 25 years now. I am just thinking that maybe now is the time for Calgary to start giving these kids a year or two to develop and get their elc years a bit latter. I think the flames are finally starting to get the talent that allows for this extra development. B.B. is not of the mind to normally have an 18 year old play as a rule and I agree that should be the general policy except in exceptional circumstances.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    I think Calgary really needs to temper expectations for Tkachuk. Just because he may be one of your best options on the wing that doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for his development right?
    Is this a year that Calgary is really ” expected” to make the playoffs? If not why wouldn’t you let him develop back with the Knights ?
    In comparison ,with the players Edmonton have on the right side, it would allow for Edmonton to send Puljujarvi to the AHL for 40 games.
    Unless these two absolutely steal a job at camp this year , what is the rush?

    • Backburner

      The Flames have enough depth on LW that there is no need to rush his development, and I don’t think anyone is really expecting him to make the jump right away.

      I would argue that he has a decent chance though for a few reasons: he has the size, skill, maturity, and I think his style of game would translate well to the NHL.

      However, I think the big question with him is his skating and whether he could keep with the pace at the NHL level. I personally think another year in junior wouldn’t help him that much, I would rather see him in the AHL, but either way I see him as a similar situation as Bennett was his rookie year.

      The major difference with Puljujarvi is that he already has experience playing in a men’s pro league. I’m guessing

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Puljujarvi does have that experience but I think it could still benefit him if he plays in the AHL cuz he can be sent there.
        I can’t remember if Bennett was sent back ( I know he played in the memorial cup that year) or was it his shoulder at that time?

        • Baalzamon

          Bennett was fighting a shoulder injury for most of his draft year, and he finally had surgery on it following training camp with the Flames. When he was finally ready to play, the Flames (correctly) sent him back to the OHL to help his recovery. But Kingston was eliminated early, so Bennett was called back up to the Flames and played every playoff game.

    • OKG

      It was actually brilliant. We did not burn a UFA year (which requires 40+ GP), we get out of “bonus randomness” a year early, and Bennett has a smaller body of work to base his next contract around which we want to be a deal with 8Y term.