Here’s why the Flames are burning a year on Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew Tkachuk will play his 10th NHL game tonight, burning off the first year of his ELC, meaning his contract will expire a year earlier than it needs to. With four points in nine games, it’s a bold move for the team. 

Tkachuk, from a points perspective, isn’t producing enough to say he is a vital contributor to this team. Since he is not providing any additional wins through his points contribution, it would be good from a contract perspective to send him to London and bring up Hunter Shinkaruk and have him produce at a similar rate for no ELC loss.

On the other hand, Tkachuk is simply playing out of his mind, regardless of whether or not it shows up on the scoresheet. By looking at the possession numbers, you can certainly make the argument that Tkachuk playing in the NHL is the right spot. In fact among one of the strongest rookie classes in recent NHL memory, he is one of the best possession players.

Here’s a list of some of the most hyped rookie forwards for this NHL season and their possession stats.

All data is 5v5 from naturalstattrick.com

CF% OZS% CFrel% GFrel%
Matthew Tkachuk 57.80 24.14 8.55 19.25
Auston Matthews 55.25 64.94 4.61 2.04
Patrick Laine 46.69 53.01 -5.05 -8.33
Jesse Puljujarvi 54.05 60.00 3.96 -6.25
Kyle Connor 39.66 55.32 -12.04 -15.00
Jimmy Vesey 53.57 56.58 5.24 16.48
Travis Konecny 53.47 53.13 1.47 2.79
William Nylander 56.89 65.29 6.82 7.14
Mitch Marner 48.59 54.84 -4.79 4.51

Let’s marvel at those numbers. Tkachuk has the highest CF%, in terms of raw and relative, and the highest rel GF%. This is all amazing considering he also has the worst zone starts, 28.87% worse than the next closest player. In time, those rel stats should come down (providing half of the team gets in gear) but his results thus far have been incredibly promising. The closest player to him on that list is Jimmy Vesey, someone four and a half years older than Tkachuk.

Those numbers are almost unheard of for a rookie. No one sticks their rookies in the defensive zone. It’s simply not a good way to build confidence if you’re getting stomped on and scored on. However, this is how Gulutzan has been using Tkachuk and he’s been succeeding.

However, it is fair to point out that Tkachuk has also predominately been playing with some of Calgary’s best centres. So far in his young career, Tkachuk has spent at least thirty minutes with Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund, more so the latter than the former. Playing with Backlund also means playing with Michael Frolik, two players who have a reputation of carrying so-so players to great results. Could that be the case with Tkachuk?

Short answer: no

tkachuk tha godddd

If you quickly browse that list, you’ll notice that Tkachuk can hold his own, no matter who he ends up with. There are very few combinations where he isn’t successful. He isn’t an anchor and he isn’t being carried by anyone else; he’s a driver. The lowest number in that second-to-last column that is below 54.29%, and that’s nuts.

Let’s focus in on Backlund and Frolik, his two main partners. In at least 36 minutes together, they are producing a ~60CF%. This is impressive considering that their zone starts (which was the very, very last column in this table, for whatever reason) is 15.15% at the max. Putting him with Backlund and Frolik was not an attempt to kickstart Tkachuk, it’s where he belongs.

For additional perspective, let’s look at his time with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer. That line and offensive zone time was the plan to start the season, with Tkachuk receiving 40.91 OZS% at the worst with Brouwer and Bennett. Again, this line was one of the better lines, putting together a CF% of at least 53.70%. Away from Bennett and Brouwer, Tkachuk still exceeds whereas 93 and 36 are shades of alright away from Tkachuk.

Yes, it’s still early in the season, but Matthew Tkachuk has been one of the best forwards on the Flames. He is very far ahead of the curve relative to his teammates and his rookie peers, and it’s no real surprise why the team chose to burn a year on his contract. Now imagine when he starts scoring.

  • SmellOfVictory

    His results are lovely, although given his extremely limited minutes, I don’t think he’s directly comparable to guys like Matthews and Laine, who spend a lot more time on the ice and are carrying a greater load.

    • Longshot1977

      More time on ice? Yes.
      Carrying greater load? No.

      Tkachuck is on Calgary’s shut-down line, almost always against top Quality of Competition, and almost always starting in the defensive zone. Matthews and Laine actually carry a much easier load, starting in the offensive zone for the majority of their shifts.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Sure, he starts more often in the defensive zone, but the CF% and GF% of Matthews’ opponents is higher (i.e. better players). Also, generally any time a player is on the ice more, their quality of opposition is going increase, and Matthews, for example, is on the ice 50% more than Tkachuk is. Also, in Matthews’ case, he isn’t playing with two high end two-way veterans; he’s playing with two other rookies.

        As a general rule of thumb I don’t think it makes sense to directly compare the underlying stats of players with substantially different TOI, because that implies different roles, different competition, and different circumstances that aren’t necessarily well-encompassed by the contextual numbers that analytics have to offer.

        This is nothing to denigrate what Tkachuk is doing, but merely to say that a substantial grain of salt should be involved if you’re looking at his CF% and comparing it with some of the other rookies in the league. And really, I think we can appreciate him as a player without having to attempt to compare to guys like Matthews at this stage.

        • According to corsica (5v5):

          QoT TOI, QoT CF%, QoC TOI, QoC CF%

          Matthews: 30.60, 53.36, 29.29, 49.22
          Tkachuk: 29.32, 47.60, 28.88, 49.63

          The differences are almost negligible except for Tkachuk and his QoT, which is probably skewed by the few games he played with Stajan. Whenever things normalize out, I feel these numbers will be exactly identical.

          The only real difference in context between Matthews and Tkachuk is that the former has much more TOI. That does impact his possession performance, but he is also getting very nice starting circumstances.

          Of course, not to say that Tkachuk will be better than Matthews over the course of their careers or even over the course of this season. It’s just that Tkachuk is playing better than Matthews right now, and will hopefully at least keep pace with Matthews in the future.

  • Backburner

    I’m sure his numbers are elevated due to playing on a line with Backlund and Frolik.. but in my opinion, that’s the best spot for him. He can learn a lot from playing with those guys vs. in junior.. as long as he’s not dragging them down.

  • Nick24

    Given all that was said about him going into the draft and the concerns that he may have been a passenger on the London trio that destroyed the OHL, it’s really nice to see that he may have been more of a driver than he was given credit for.

    Hopefully this trend continues!

  • Kevin R

    I know everyone on the other thread would like to see Gaudreau with Frolik & Backlund, I think they should keep Tkachuk all year with these two. You won’t get him to develop his 200′ game better anywhere else.

    i am happy for him. I say shift Gaudreau with Bennett & Brouwer & see how it goes for a few games.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I think it would be beneficial to try Tkachuk on a few more lines. Try him with Johnny and Monahan, on RW. Play him as Bennett’s LW. Shift Johnny to Bennett’s line and put Tkachuk on Monahan’s LW.

      Any of the above means finding a replacement for Chiasson. He isn’t helping the line’s production or corsi.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Not a steal! Finesse. Tre tipped the draft in favour of the Flames.

      First, he gave the impression to the GM of Columbus that he wanted to swap picks in order to get the other Finn. This confused the heck out of his Blue Jacket rival who wanted the Finn but was also cautious of drafting the fellow Finn lest he be accused of favouritism if the Finn proved a bust. Tre’s smoke bomb led directly to the Jackets drafting the big Frenchman.

      Second, old baldy in EDM wet himself when he saw the second Finn was still on the board, so much so that he would not hear of drafting anybody else.

      Finally, VCR was the real challenge, but Tre pretty much convinced the discombobulated Benning to go with the Finn defenceman when Tre made it known to him that was who the Flames wanted. Trusting Tre’s judgment more than his own people, Benning went D, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of his scouting staff and fans.

      By playing on the weaknesses and fears of his rivals, Tre got Matty. It wasn’t that Matty fell to 6th. Rather it was that Tre got the 3rd best player in the draft at 6th by bamboozling the enemy.

      • I give Benning, Jarmo, and Chia a lot of grief, but they aren’t dumb enough to get pranked like this. Puljujarvi was always the wildcard of the top three picks, and Jarmo felt that Dubois was the safer pick. It was rumoured that Edmonton was going to draft a defenceman assuming the top three panned out as it should have, but with Puljujarvi on the board, they weren’t going to let him slip. Benning was always going to pick a defenceman if Dubois wasn’t available. No matter which way you cut it, Tkachuk would’ve been available at #6.

  • beloch

    Tkachuk was leading the team in ES shots/TOI at one point, but he’s now in second place (Frolik is in first). Still, how can you demote a kid who is a team leader in shot generation? If anything, Tkachuk deserves more minutes. If he continues to generate shots at his present rate, points will happen.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Tkachuk is being helped tremendously by two of the best forwards on this team. Couldn’t have asked for a better scenario for him in his rookie year.

  • jakethesnail

    It wasn’t a steal!

    Flames got the player they wanted and Tkachuk went to the team he wanted to play for. The other teams got the players they wanted, end of story.

    Only player that fell was Pullyou to Edmonton…and that is just because of the draft rankings. What each GM covets (example: Defence over Offense) is not part of the draft rankings.

  • jakethesnail

    “Here’s why the Flames are burning a year on Matthew Tkachuk”

    TONIGHT! versus San Jose.

    2 Goals including Game Winner! Nice Finish for an 18 year old…

  • al rain

    10 games is 10 games.

    I’m happy to see Tkachuk’s underlying numbers pointing in the right direction, even strongly, but it’s a bit early to be declaring him the steal of the draft or Treliving a genius or whatever else.