Realistic Expectations: Matthew Tkachuk

Well, it’s finally Hockey Day. The Flames are heading north to Edmonton to remind the Oilers that their history is a flat circle. It’s a new season, and there’s plenty to be excited about.

For the Flames, the biggest story tonight and probably for the rest of the season will be Matthew Tkachuk. The sixth overall selection at the draft has turned many heads at the Young Stars classic and during the preseason. He’ll make his big debut tonight.

The Year Before

You’ve probably heard the story all before, but here it is again.

Tkachuk headed to a powerful London Knights team after spending time with the U.S National Development Team, joining forces with blue chippers Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak to form the best line in Canadian major junior hockey. Individually, Tkachuk put up 107 points in 57 games.


Most advanced projection tools list Tkachuk as a surefire NHLer, probably a superstar in the immediate future. But speaking of familiar narratives, the only reason he’s so highly valued by projections is because his numbers are slightly inflated from playing with great linemates.

We’ve spent a little bit of time trying to debunk this assertion, but it still persists. It is fair criticism; a player going from the best in a junior league to players who are not quite the best (yet) in the NHL will obviously not be as productive as in junior, and we should set our expectations accordingly.

Expectations

Luckily for Tkachuk, he’s moving from one fortunate situation to another.

There are two steps to this, the first being history. The two previous Flames first rounders, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, scored 34 and 36 points in their rookie years. Using those guidelines, we could easily expect Tkachuk to hit a modest 30-40 in his first year, and then explode the next year.

The second step is contextualizing Monahan and Bennett. Monahan was thrown into a top six centre position in his first year on what was the Flames’ worst team ever by overall position in the standings. He barely had any help. His most common teammates were Chris Butler, Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler, and Joe Colborne. He also broke his foot and came back to play a bit too early. He really didn’t get a chance to shine.

Bennett also didn’t get a good showing last year. He wasn’t played in his natural position, and was also misused on the shutdown line. Even with promising underlying results, Bennett struggled to put points on the board.

Whereas Monahan and Bennett had to play on Flames teams that were in various stages of rebuilding, Tkachuk gets to play on one that is significantly closer to contending for a playoff spot. He’s going to play in his natural position with other good players. Based on Glen Gulutzan’s usage of him in the preseason, we can expect to see Tkachuk operate mostly in the offensive zone, his area of expertise. He’s in a great place to succeed.

All things considered, we can probably amend that original projection to maybe the 40-50 points range with strong Calder consideration. He’s going to be good.