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 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.