How has Matthew Tkachuk fared through four games?

Back in June, the Calgary Flames lucked out when they drafted Matthew Tkachuk at sixth overall. A product of the St. Louis minor hockey system (and son of long-time NHLer Keith), Tkachuk was a very good player for the U.S. National Development Program’s U18 team and then a very good player for the London Knights last season.

He’s played four games thus far for the Flames. If he plays 10 games, the first season of his entry-level contract – the three cheapest seasons of a productive offensive player’s career – will be burned off and his deal will begin to run. There are many aspects to the “Should Tkachuk play all season in the NHL?” discussion. For right now, let’s focus entirely on what’s happening on the ice.

How has he been through four games?

COUNTING STATS

Let’s start here. Tkachuk is one of just eight Flames to have a goal through four games (and one of just six forwards). He also has eight shots on goal and a minus-1 rating. Among forwards, Troy Brouwer, Sam Bennett, Kris Versteeg, Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma all have fewer shots. Among forwards, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund and Johnny Gaudreau have worse plus/minus, for whatever that’s worth.

He’s been one of the better forwards in this general area through four games, though hardly exceptional. (He’s not Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews.)

FANCY STATS

In terms of puck possession, Tkachuk is fifth on the team among forwards in Corsi For percentage (56.47%). He’s second among forwards in Corsi For rate (CF/60), but has the second-worst Corsi Against rate (CA/60). Given his in experience, the iffy defensive stat makes sense. Among forwards that get power play time, he’s second (behind only Backlund) in Corsi For rate (CF/60) with the man advantage.

Game-by-game, Tkachuk’s Corsi For was as follows: 66.7%, 59.1%, 38.9% and 53.3% On its face, those numbers sound really great, but bear in mind the entire team has fairly good Corsi. Compared to the rest of the team, his Corsi Rel for each of the four games, his numbers seem less impressive: +16.7%, +1.3%, -1.1% and -11.8%.

Again: he’s been one of the better forwards on the team, but his numbers aren’t quite as good as they look. He’s been getting worse relative to the rest of the team over time.

CONTEXT & USAGE

Fundamentally speaking, Tkachuk is playing as much per game as Micheal Ferland, and more than Lance Bouma, Alex Chiasson and Matt Stajan. He’s consistently playing between nine and 10 minutes of even strength per night, plus second unit power play time. He’s played primarily with Brouwer and Bennett, though he was used quite a bit against Vancouver and Buffalo with Stajan and Versteeg. He scored his goal while playing with Stajan and Versteeg. 

Interestingly enough, he’s received less and less “high ground” in each game. His offensive zone starts have shrunk in every game: 80%, 57.1%, 14.3% and 0.0%. Every even strength shift he had against Buffalo was a defensive or neutral zone start.

In terms of zone entries, while the data’s not completely compiled for the Buffalo game, he was second on the entire team (behind Gaudreau) in total zone entries. When you factor in his ice time, that’s fairly impressive. His carry-in rate from game to game is all over the map, but he’s consistently one of the best players (along with Gaudreau and Bennett) at total zone entries, and in a couple of the games he was one of the better players at carry-ins.

THE COACH’S ASSESSMENT

“He’s an emotional player and, like I said, he’s in the fabric of the game. He’s always in there. He scored that goal, and I think that got him charged up and he had a couple big hits after that, and put a little life into the bench and into the building. That’s what young guys have to do, they provide energy and he did a good job.” – Glen Gulutzan following Tuesday’s game with Buffalo, noting Tkachuk’s impact.

“My evaluation of Matthew Tkachuk right now is… the one thing I like from a young player standpoint, I’ve had lots of young guys, is the way he’s managing the puck. You still see some, he gets knocked down every now and then being a young guy, but the way he’s managing the puck and managing his game and his attention to detail that we’ve talked about from the start of training camp has been very good.” – Gulutzan, on his evaluation of Tkachuk’s play through four games.

SUM IT UP

Tkachuk has played four games in the NHL as an 18-year-old. He’s never looked out of place and he hasn’t embarrassed himself (or his team). In addition, he’s been one of the better forwards on the club in a couple of the games and he was a definite difference maker in the win over Buffalo.

Is he going to be able to sustain this play over 82 games? I don’t know. There are established NHLers that can’t maintain strong play over 82 games. Is he better than the next-best player that would theoretically replace him from Stockton? If you are operating under the premise that he would be replaced by Hunter Shinkaruk or Garnet Hathaway if he went back to the London Knights, I’m willing to say that right now he’s better than they are. He’ll probably be better throughout the rest of the season, as well.

If your decision making related to Tkachuk staying with the Flames or going back to junior is entirely based on his on-ice performance and his ability to help the Flames win more games with him than without him, he should stay. Even while trying to find his footing on a team that’s been out of sorts and making weird decisions with the puck, he’s been one of their better forwards.

  • supra steve

    The whole worry of burning that first year is a non issue for me. Look at Bennett and Drai (in Edmonton), both had that first year burned and will get significant raises at some point before next season. But, if the first year had not been burned and they were not due new deals until summer 2018…I assume both would be larger contributors to their teams and they would be due even larger raises on the second contract. Can you imagine how much Gaudreau may have needed to resign next summer, had the Flames not burned that first year?

    Bottom line, if they are competitive in the NHL, that’s where they should be.

  • jakethesnail

    Thanks for this assessment Ryan.

    He has contributed to team energy from the get-go, at the Young Stars tournament, and continues to do so.

    From my eye, he is good value to the Flames if he stays the entire year.

  • everton fc

    Two games ago, I thought he should be sent back to the “O”.

    Now, I think he stays. No one on the farm is ready. Freddie H. plays from the right-side. Our options remain limited.

  • everton fc

    Not related, but something I’d be interested to see;

    If Bouma isn’t cutting it (is he?) I wonder how a 4th line of Lomberg/Stajan/Versteeg fares?

  • MonsterPod

    Burning the first year of a contract has changed in meaning because of the lack of bridge deals nowadays.

    A kid who plays well between the ages of 18-21 might sign his 20s away for a lower number than someone who plays great age 19-22 or 20-23.

    It’s becoming a bit of a coin flip. I guess the other issue is how soon said player becomes a UFA.

    If MT keeps looking like he belongs in the top six and doesn’t need to be shuffled to the bottom six, then keeping him here may be best for his dev.

    It’s all about the future, both his and the team’s. We’re not contending yet.

  • cunning_linguist

    Keep the kid. There will be injuries etc… so it’s not like he’s truly occupying the space of another kid from the farm for the whole season or anything. Either way, he’s already an asset/non-liability in an NHL lineup, doesn’t belong in the OHL anymore.

    • McRib

      Jusf goes to show how little developmental camp or a prospect tournament matters for a top prospect (or really anyone for that matter). A three game sample size, versus years of a major junior or college sample size is just not the same. Not that I am still bitter that we didnt sign Brayden Burke after he scored 109 Points in only his second WHL season, Hahaha. Although I am happy Ryan Lomberg is still looking legit in the AHL. One has to think he would never have played a game in the ECHL if he played out his final two years at the University of Maine.

  • Druds

    I think that your positiveness based on 4 !!! games is a mistake and somewhat weird that your stating he will be better for the next 6 months than anyone else on the farm club..absolute garbage! and your membership at the Stat club would be burned basing all your “evidence?” on 4 games worth.

    I think just like Drai in Edmonton he will burn bright like a comet for 10-15 games and then crash and burn.

    • jakethesnail

      Tkachuk is not Drai nor Pullyou who will be sent down to the AHL soon. In defense of Drai oilers management put him in that situation – he should have been sent back to junior from the get-go. But because the GM didn’t have enough centres….

  • Just.Visiting

    I’ve been favourably impressed with MT so far.

    If the question is the simple one of whether he is playing well enough now to stay with the team and to continue to contribute in the current manner, I believe that the answer is a resounding yes.

    I don’t think the proper question is whether he is able to play that type of third or fourth line energy type Michael Ferland type role on the team now, though.

    Instead, I think it is whether he is able at this time to offer the blend of skill and heart that would see him shining now as our first or second line LW.

    My answer to that question is a no, based on the blend I’ve seen so far (much more emphasis on the playing with heart than playing with skill).

    At this stage, I think he would benefit from another year of junior, being the “guy” and enhancing the skill component of his game, so that he can offer a much more complete package next year.

    I think we do MT and the team a disservice if we potentially compromise the longer term development of the skill component of his game to keep him around to play an energy role.

    • supra steve

      I wasn’t aware that the position of first line right winger was even open?

      There’s no problem having a skilled player learn the pro game on the third line, has been done a thousand times before. And, the Flames are quite qualified to make the final call on that, one way or the other. They didn’t ruin Monahan, or Gaudreau, or Bennett; I trust they will not ruin Tkachuk.