Matthew Tkachuk: The season’s biggest surprise

Calgary Flames fans were elated when Matthew Tkachuk fell to the team at number six overall in June’s NHL Draft, and for good reason. Tkachuk was coming off a banner season with the OHL’s London Knights, filled an organizational need for the Flames, and in his on-ice personality, brought the team something they didn’t have. I thought Tkachuk had a chance to make Calgary’s roster out of training camp, but by no means did I see him making the type of impact he has to this point.

Tkachuk has more than held his own at the highest level. In fact, being pummelled with some of the toughest ice time on the team, Tkachuk has excelled and has been one of Calgary’s best forwards. He’s been more effective than players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett, all of whom are further along in their NHL careers. What we’ve seen thus far from Tkachuk is outstanding and it sure does make you think just how could he could be in two or three years. So just how good has he been?

Usage

Tkachuk’s season started with him playing different roles and with all kinds of different linemates. Since game nine of the season, though, that’s normalized in a big way. Tkachuk has been playing steadily with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik since the end of October and has excelled on the left side of that trio.

When you consider the difficulty of minutes Backlund and Frolik play, common sense wouldn’t necessarily suggest using a rookie to complete their line. Over the last number of years, Backlund’s line has taken on the very toughest competition on the other side while being fed a ton of defensive starts. Conventionally, those situations are not ideal for a developing soon-to-be 19-year-old. Luckily for Calgary, Tkachuk is anything but conventional.

By the eye, Tkachuk hasn’t looked one bit out of place playing in those tough spots. Offensively he’s engaged every night, but that’s somewhat to be expected for a guy who put up 107 points in London last year. It’s the defensive side of the game where he’s surprised me, because he has looked as comfortable as anyone in his own end against some of the top players in the world. His underlying numbers support what the eye sees, too.

Screen Shot 2016-11-26 at 7.09.14 PM

Among regular players, not just forwards, Tkachuk has been the top possession forward on the team while only three players (Lance Bouma, Freddie Hamilton, and Hunter Shinkaruk) have seen more defensive starts than he has. To think his numbers are that good with the responsibility his line takes on makes that chart even more impressive. Both visually and analytically, Tkachuk has been one of the most effective forwards on the team this year.

Comparables

I’ll go about comparing Tkachuk to other players in a couple different ways. Let’s start by comparing Tkachuk through his first 19 games to what we saw from a trio of teammates who had rookie seasons one after the other. As you’ll see below, Monahan, Gaudreau, and Bennett all paled in comparison, at least on the possession side of things.

Screen Shot 2016-11-26 at 7.30.37 PM

Obviously this isn’t a perfect comparison, but it does show you how differently Tkachuk has been used in his rookie season in comparison to the other three. Now, possession isn’t everything and none of Monahan or Gaudreau benefitted from the “Backlund Bump” (although Bennett did on occasion). That being said, the impact Tkachuk has made at both ends of the rink is pretty staggering when taking a look at his Calgary contemporaries.

The other comparison route I went was looking at recent draftees playing his same position. I went back and looked at some of the higher scoring left wingers out of the last 10 drafts and took a look at their counting and underlying numbers in their first years. In terms of goals, assists, and points, Tkachuk doesn’t stack up as impressively when projecting his point totals.

Screen Shot 2016-11-26 at 7.35.20 PM

I projected Tkachuk at 78 games assuming he doesn’t miss another game this season; to date, he’s missed two for injury and two as a healthy scratch (which still seems strange). Tkachuk likely won’t have numbers as impressive as the players I compared him to in their first years, but that’s okay. None of the players above took on the responsibility Tkachuk has in his rookie campaign.

Screen Shot 2016-11-26 at 7.38.03 PM

Taking a look at those last two tables certainly makes you wonder what type of numbers Tkachuk could post if he was used in a more offensive role, doesn’t it? That’s not to say I disagree with the way the coaching staff is using Tkachuk, because I don’t. He’s helping the team generate shots and offensive zone time while helping suppress some of the best players in the NHL. That helps you win games as much as putting up more gaudy point totals does.

What do we think?

I won’t lie, I’m stunned at how good Tkachuk has been in his rookie season. My initial thought was he stays up for nine games, gets returned to the OHL, and really starts his professional career next season. I always believed Tkachuk would be a huge impact maker on this team, I just didn’t think it would be this fast or in this way.

But, how can you not be impressed? I don’t know if he’ll be able to keep it up all year, and neither does anyone else. He’s a rookie and sometimes walls are hit and effectiveness tails off a little. However, I’ve seen nothing in Tkachuk’s game that indicates a drop-off is coming anytime soon and while he keeps playing this way, he helps the Flames win.

In closing, here’s what really seals it for me: where would Calgary be without Tkachuk this year? It’s not a stretch to think they’d be worse off, which is scary knowing how the season has started.

  • The GREAT WW

    Chuk is amazing; easily my favourite Flame right now. An absolute steal at #6, Columbus, Oilers and Canucks are wishing they picked him!!!

    He is picking up some bad habits though; usually the last one out of the O zone, by a lot, after a Flame turnover. Playing with Backlund and Frolik gives him the luxury of half arsing it back, but a good coach would rectify this asap, he needs to learn a complete game.

    WW

    • Jakethesnail

      Oiler fans are very happy with Puljujarvi. He has played one less game than Tkachuk , who Calgary fan’s are giddy about , yet only two points behind with way less ice time. He is 6’4″ 210 pounds and is a great skater with a great shot. He is the YOUNGEST player in the league and is learning a new language, culture, and the North American game.

      He will end up being everything that the Oilers thought he would be playing on McDavids wing for the next 15 years racking up the points.

      If you think Calgary was trying to make a deal at the draft to move up to the 3rd spot to pick Tkachuk you are fooling yourself.

      They too would have picked Puljujarvi!

      • Arminius

        Difference being Poo plays with McDavid while Tkachuk plays with Backlund. Bit of a difference there. Fire hydrant could put up points with McDavid. Historically Backlund line has been one that struggles to score..Tkachuk has changed that this year. For those out there who think it’s all Backlund

          • BluDino

            It’s getting hard to keep track of these oilers trolls. Is this train with yet another name or a completely new loser spending way too much time on a fan site for a team they hate.
            Anyways, MT has been a great addition, he has heart for winning. If Monahan drops off for good hand this kid the A and follow it up with C in a few years.

      • Kevin R

        Of course we would have been giddy about getting that kid. I actually thought Calgary should have moved Hamilton to Edmonton for Nurse & that #4 pick & then we would have had both of them. How sweet that would have been. But for Flames to get him at #6, well I am pretty happy because I wasn’t sold on Dubois & we really didn’t need Juolovi.

          • Kevin R

            Hardly, but you are forgetting the #4 pick as well & that would have been Nurse & Puljarvi for Hamilton & my thinking would have been drafting Juolovi at 6 & would have smiled when Chuk fell to us as well. With Killington & Anderson down on the farm & Nurse ‘s development well on its way, I would have considered it a rebuild move yet & I think we can clearly see we are still a rebuilding team right now. I am a born & bred Calgarian, so calling me an Oiler fan…well GFY!

      • The GREAT WW

        Nail Puljarvi only has one goal (the one he shot wide but Elliott was nice enough to direct into his own net with his arm) And the rest are a bunch of secondary assists. He’ll be in the KHL in a few years….

        If a redraft was done today Chuck would go third…….Puljarvi not in top 5. Columbus was smart to take Dubois, and he is not very good either…..

        Thank you for Chuk Oilers!!!!!

        WW

          • The GREAT WW

            Before this season started he was the highest scoring player of his draft class….

            How about Yakupov?
            Traded for a THIRD rounder?!

            RNH: Joe Colborne 2.0.

            Hall: I have to admit; solid first overall pick….

            WW

          • Jakethesnail

            True about Yakupov and they recognized a past regime’s error and dumped him . No longer playing in St. Louis either. Different team different regime. First place!

          • RickT

            Great take! You’ve stumped flames fans.

            Just for comparison, though.

            In the past two seasons one player scored 56 points, and then was on pace for just under 51.

            The other player scored 62 and 63 points, respectively.

            That first player has two more points than the second player this year.

            One player was a first overall pick, the other a 6th. They are both on the same team that drafted them.

            I wonder, would that 6th overall not be picked in the first round again? Or, maybe, would that 1st overall not be. If, of course, we are just comparing stats.

          • Flaymin Frank

            Questionable draft picks?? Every team has them. The Coilers, however, have probably has taken this art to new levels over the past decade or so.

            You’ve been nice enough to share your sage wisdom with the unwashed masses, now its time to slither back to your abode underneath the Low Level bridge.

  • MontanaMan

    I hadn’t seen much of Tkachuk as a junior, but my expectations were of a power forward, tough to play against and able to chip in with points around the net. What has surprised me is his compete level and his skill with the puck. The passes he has made and soft hands have been a pleasant surprise. For a rookie, this kid has over achieved. Let’s hope he keeps improving at this year’s rate.

  • smatic10

    I personally think the biggest surprise this season has been Stajan. Doing well in the faceoff circle and playing a full 200ft game. Bennett’s goal last night wouldn’t have happened without Staj’s pass.

    But as far as Chuky goes, can’t deny that he’s been impressive. He fits in really well with the Backs-Froyo duo.

    • Primo

      As much as I like Stajsn’s play this year he is on pace to score about 3 goals this year. Simply put if you want to make the playoffs you need more production from your 3rd and 4th lines particularly at times when your top guns are struggling….

    • Kevin R

      Agree Stajan has been playing better. At 3.2 mill per though, not good value. At half that cap hit, absolutely, I have lots of time for Stajan being a bottom 6 veteran forward on this team.

  • The Last Big Bear

    It’s almost like the wingers on Mikael Backlund’s line always end up playing really well, and posting strong numbers.

    Has anybody looked into that yet?

    (Don’t mean to discredit Mr Tkachuk, but seriously. For my money, Backlund is the best player on the Flames.)

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    What impresses me the most about Matty is his vision, He has sent some amazing blind passes to his linemates that would have been buried by more offensive line mates.

    I can hardly wait until he gets stronger on his skates….because he is constantly falling on the ice. This takes him out of the play.
    I believe his point total has been understated because of the Flames lack of finish across the board. He has missed the net on a few break aways.

  • JumpJet

    I wouldn’t be worried about Tkachuk’s point totals yet. He’ll start to generate more offence, and I’m sure his fancy stats will drop a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get close to Saad and Pastrnak by the end of the year, and those two guys have turned out pretty well.

  • The Fall

    Matt should be in London. Sam should be on that wing. The Flames would still be in the same spot in the standings, and they’d be a better team next year.

  • Derzie

    Overachieves on possession, underachieves on points. That is Backlund’s MO as well although he has better finish than Backlund. My feeling is that over time, he has Brad Marchand potential. Disturber with top line skill.

  • OKG

    Hate to be “that guy” but despite being Backlund’s biggest fan, I actually think Backlund and Frolik are holding Tkachuk down as while they are good players they are not on Matthew’s level. We need to get back to Tkachuk-Bennett-X as our top line pair, except instead of Brouwer get Ferland or Monahan on the other wing.

    Ferland-Bennett-Tkachuk
    or
    Tkachuk-Bennett-Monahan

    Now the tradeoff is that the Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik line is so good that you might be messing with a good thing. But at the end of the day we want to be a contender and that line isn’t good enough to be a top line on a contender. A line with Tkachuk, Bennett, Monahan is. You can have Ferland-Backlund-Frolik be your shutdown line, and Gaudreau-Jankowski-Brouwer be your secondary scoring line.