It’s time to make a decision on Matthew Tkachuk

Well, there it is: Matthew Tkachuk has officially played nine NHL games. One more, and the first year of his entry-level contract is burnt.

What does he have to show for his professional career so far? 

Nine games in

One goal – a game-tying one against the Buffalo Sabres that led to the Flames’ first win of the season – and three assists. He’s gotten four points over the course of his first nine games, all at even strength; though since being placed on a line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, he’s had more opportunities. (He probably could have gotten a hat trick in St. Louis alone had the fates been kinder.)

Tkachuk has also registered 14 shots on net, and thrown nine hits. He’s recorded eight penalty minutes, which is probably a marked improvement considering how out of control he started off at the Penticton tournament.

On the fancier side of things, he has a 5v5 CF of 57.80%, good for second on the team, behind just Brett Kulak, who has only played three games. That’s with a 24.14% OZS, fifth worst on the team (third worst when only counting regulars).

His counting stats are respectable; his underlyings are downright impressive. Combine that with the fact that he’s 6’2, 202 lbs., and it seems like a no-brainer to keep him up – especially as he’s really just started to find his stride alongside his new linemates.

Are there any comparables?

For the Flames, just one, really: Sean Monahan. Monahan and Tkachuk are the only Flames in recent history to make the NHL immediately out of their draft year and have the nine-game chance to fight for a permanent spot in the lineup. 

Here’s how they both did:

Player Goals Assists Points Shots PIM ATOI 5v5 CF% 5v5 OZS%
Monahan 6 3 9 21 0 15:47 47.35 58.64
Tkachuk 1 3 4 14 8 11:54 57.80 24.14

Monahan clearly had the more impressive counting stats. He was on the board pretty much immediately, and kept it up throughout his first nine games at a fast pace. He was rewarded with additional ice time for his efforts, too, and wasn’t ever healthy scratched. He also didn’t take a single penalty; it actually took him 23 games to make his way to the box.

Tkachuk, in comparison, has sat for two games already. His ice time is much less, and he hasn’t scored nearly as much. They had the same number of assists, but Monahan was shooting at a 28.57% clip; Tkachuk is at 7.14%. 

Tkachuk doesn’t carry the red flags Monahan did, though. For one thing, his shooting percentage is much more reasonable, and possibly actually a bit low. While with Monahan it was easy to predict a scoring drop, in Tkachuk’s place, it makes more sense to predict increased scoring. 

Furthermore, Tkachuk hasn’t needed to score goals just to prove he belongs – he’s just plain looked like he does, and his corsi and zone start stats support that. Monahan was sheltered and still came up a bit short, corsi-wise; Tkachuk isn’t getting the easy route at all, and he’s performing well.

In Monahan’s case, it was impossible to send him down; not after scoring six goals. What kind of message would that send? Tkachuk doesn’t have the benefit of that, but his start may have him looking as though he belongs more than the 19-year-old Monahan may have.

If he’s sent down, who could replace him?

At the nine game mark? Hunter Shinkaruk, and probably just him. Shinkaruk doesn’t have Tkachuk’s size, but he does have significantly more professional experience than him and just about everyone else who could be available for a call up. Shinkaruk’s four goals and six points through six games are tied for third in Stockton Heat scoring, but he’s probably more ready for big league duty now than anyone else.

Here’s the thing with replacing Tkachuk, though: that’s it. There aren’t any do-overs; he’d be spending the rest of his season in London. And if Shinkaruk turns out to not be ready, then the Flames have to keep trying out other AHL forwards until they find someone.

Morgan Klimchuk is only just starting to have success at the professional level. Mark Jankowski only just became a pro. Daniel Pribyl is coming off of major injury, though he’ll probably be due for a showing at some point. But for long-term options right now, if Shinkaruk isn’t the guy, you’re probably looking at Linden Vey.

This is the part where we remember Alex Chiasson is currently a first line winger due to how thin the Flames’ forward group is, so swapping out Tkachuk for Vey would probably be not ideal, to say the least.

Of course, the dynamics of this could all change greatly over the next 29 games. The Flames’ 40th game of the season is scheduled for Jan. 4, their first game of the new calendar year. If Tkachuk is playing in the NHL in 2017, then that’s it: he’s likely cemented himself a a full-time NHLer.

If, however, he’s returned to junior by then, then the Flames will be delaying his arbitration eligibility and UFA status by a year.

This can work in two ways: either Tkachuk has himself fully cemented an NHLer by then, in which case, he’ll have greater contractual power sooner rather than later; or, if it’s determined that he shouldn’t stay up, then there should be multiple options on the farm with enough professional experience by then to be deemed plausible long-term lineup options.

But as things stand right now? The only reason to stop Tkachuk from playing a 10th game would be to spare him from the mess this Flames team is at the moment. That’s it. He’s looked like he belongs.

  • RKD

    To me Tkachuk has never looked out of place, he looks way ahead of the other prospects. He’s probably been one of the better Flames forwards. Still don’t understand why GG scratched him for 2 games. If he’s going to play keep him up but if he’s not going to play and sit in the pressbox eating popcorn then send him back. He’s looked great on a line with Backlund and Frolik.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I think GG wanted to have him play against Chicago and Washington, so he spread it out that way. Washington was a “statement game” and he needed to see how the kid handled it without it being his 9th game. At least now, BT has a sample against teams other than deadbeat teams.

  • Stan

    Keep him up. In my mind it’s the right thing to do, both from a developmental and team success standpoint.

    I also don’t buy the argument in the last paragraph there, that the only reason to send him down is to keep him away from “the mess this Flames team is”. I honestly don’t think they have been that bad lately. They have won 3 of their last 5 games and should have won 4 if they had some more finish last night. Their two best forwards have not been good, but this won’t last forever.

  • Stan

    On an unrelated note, I know GG has gotten a lot of hate for his defensive pairings, and I agree. To my eye they have been puzzling. So I asked myself, why is he spreading the talent throughout the lineup? Does any other team do this? If so, have they had success?

    It didn’t take long to find a team that has taken this approach in the St. Louis Blues. They have Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, and Parayko all playing on different pairings, and yet they have had success and are considered one of the best defensive teams in the league. So they have been able to find success with this approach, yet GG is considered an idiot for trying to emulate it? Why is this? Is it because the Blues depth defenseman are better then the flames, thereby making this strategy more viable? That would be my first inclination, but I haven’t had a chance to really look into it. Anyways, I just found it interesting and wanted to get others thoughts before doing a more in depth analysis myself.

    • Derzie

      The Blues have depth, the Flames don’t. You’ve made the point against GG by attempting the opposite. You don’t make pairings based on what you wished you had but rather what you actually do. Make strong pairings and give the ice time. Limit the weak ones and have the GM try to fix depth.

      • Greatsave

        Counter-example would be the recent years’ Blackhawks, I think? Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson are great. van Riemsdyk is serviceable. The rest aren’t much good. So they basically rolled 4 defencemen.

      • Stan

        …you’ve basically completely ignored what I said.

        You state that the coach should “make strong pairings and give them the ice time, limit the weak ones”, which (as I stated) is something I agree with and most teams in the NHL do this. However, St. Louis isn’t one of these teams. Instead, they spread their top 3 dmen over the three pairings. So what I am asking, is how come the Blues have had such great success with this approach? And if the Blues can find success with it, then why can’t the Flames?

        Now, you say that this is because they have depth and the Flames don’t, but I would argue with this. Sure, Bouwmeester plays on the top pairing with Pietrangelo and is clearly a better option then Wideman. I’ll give the Blues the edge in depth there. But after that? Are Gunnarsson, Edmundson and Bortuzzo better options then Jokipakka, Kulak and Engelland? I’m not so sure they are. At the very least it’s debatable.

        I’m not saying that the Blues approach is the correct one or the one that the Flames should follow. I’m just asking why the Blues have been able to have such success using this formula, and if they can, then why can’t the Flames?

  • Theo4HoF

    He will probably stay. If he could go down to the AHL I would send him down. Wouldn’t mind seeing him over ripen in minors for one more year though, it probably wouldn’t hurt. I don’t think were gonna contend for a cup this year anyway.

  • Jakethesnail

    Send him back he is only gonna get better and Calgary won’t make the playoffs this year anyway this year.
    Last year was the only year he played a lot of game .57 regular season and playoffs. The year before was I think 24 and 33 games. He will be burned out by February. He needs to work on his skating.

    • Greatsave

      Last year. 57 OHL regular season games. 18 OHL playoff games. 4 Memorial Cup games. 7 with USA at World Juniors. 166 points total.

      Year before. 65 games with USA U-18’s.

      Year before that. 53 games with USA U-17’s.

      But hey, facts don’t matter to you, do they.

      • Jakethesnail

        I know he also had playoff games. I’m aware of that but now he is playing against full grown men. Time will tell I guess.

        40 games total in ’14 and 31 in ’15. Unless you have another link to show me.

      • Jakethesnail

        I don’t know what your big rush is? I guess other teams should send their guys back but Tkachuk is one of the few that it will benefit to stay up??

        • Greatsave

          *shrug* I personally don’t care one way or another whether he stays up or goes down. Much less do I care about what “other teams” do with “their guys”. So I don’t know what this “big rush” is that you’re talking about.

          • Jakethesnail

            K thanks never used that site before. HD did not show those stats.
            I just think that there is no rush for him and they should just let him continue progressing with London.
            If Calgary keeps losing the majority of their games why keep him up in that situation? His confidence could really take a hit.

          • Greatsave

            Every kid’s different. I wouldn’t presume to know better than those who actually know him, how he will respond one way or another. Monahan stuck for the whole year in 13-14 when the Flames finished 4th from the bottom, and he turned out okay.

        • jakethesnail

          Decision has been made…Tkachuk is playing TONIGHT!!

          He has been one of the Flames better players.!!!

          He displays the grit that Drai did not have at a year older!

  • Parallex

    I’m of two minds…

    1: Keep him up. He’s playing well so far if he ceases playing well we can always send him down before he accrues the a service year (game 41) and stop the free agency clock if not the ELC clock.

    2: Send him down. So you force Gulutzan to change his line-up because it’s looking like certain holes in his (Gulutzan’s) vision will only be plugged by matter of necessity.

    … two was mostly in jest (mostly), keep him up (for now). He’s playing fine, he’s found his stride with the Mikes. So let’s keep that going and fix the rest.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    I imagine my opinion be in the “not so popular choice” camp, but so be it. With the current performance level of the Flames thus far this season I would send him Back to Jr.
    Yes he will not be as challenged as if he stayed up… BUT…learning how to Captain (and be the leader in the room) of a team to compete for a repeat as Memorial cup champs isn’t a small thing either. He could also use his increased ice time to practice/work on his finesse/skill moves as he will have way more time and space in the OHL to try out new moves and make skill plays than he will in the NHL. I have No Problem with letting him harness those skills as well as continuing his high energy crash and bang style. Usually there can be a pretty big learning curve both physically & mentally(maturely) between 18~19 which isn’t a bad thing to grow into.
    Either way I believe the decision will be a mutual agreed choice between the Tkachuk family & Flames Management…
    Its a tough call.

  • Derzie

    They’ll likely keep him but he should go down and continue to learn how to win. Maybe when he comes back this team will have figured it out or changed coaches.

  • RedMan

    let’s not be Oilerish and expect to go from rebuilding to the cup in one year.

    so what if the team is struggling this year? that means you’d rather have a rookie learn in a year that everyone else is doing better, but he is the weak link as the rookie? the fact that the team isn’t winning the cup this year does not mean he should be sent back, in fact to me it is better to let him learn in a year where we know we aren’t winning the cup.

    he has nothing left to gain from being in juniors except “leadership” but playing in the NHL gives him the opportunity to grow and develop strength and skill at a new level.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I hope they keep him up. Tkachuk won’t be challenged enough in junior and has the chance of developing bad habits, although Dale Hunter would keep him in check. Tkachuk has looked good in all of the outings I have seen, does the smart thing away from the puck and is picking up the pro game a lot quicker than I was anticipating.