For the past four seasons, including this one, the Calgary Flames have had the chance to feature a prominent rookie in their lineup. Taken at sixth overall in 2013, Sean Monahan was the first draft pick of the rebuild, and he made the NHL right away. Johnny Gaudreau, having taken every challenge the NCAA could have possibly thrown at him, played his rookie year the season after. Sam Bennett followed up with his the next season.
This season, Matthew Tkachuk has been that rookie. Just like with the previous three, there were questions as to whether he’d be able to make the team full-time at all. Now, over 50 games through the season, we’re seeing him be one of the Flames’ most impactful players.
Tkachuk has 34 points in 52 games so far: good for fourth in team scoring. He’s on pace for 51 points this season.
Like Tkachuk, none of his fellow then-rookies actually did play a full 82 games. Monahan missed seven games with a broken foot. Gaudreau was a healthy scratch twice, including once because the Flames were resting him for the playoffs. Bennett missed five games of his rookie season with various ailments.
Even then, though, they were all still able to play most of the season, as it looks like Tkachuk is poised to.
So let’s go back to the points. Here’s where everyone was at this stage of the season (Feb. 12) in their respective rookie years:
* average ice time over full rookie season
Clearly the standout rookie is Gaudreau. He did have a 64-point rookie season, though, and is (so far) the only Calder finalist out of this group, so that makes sense. He was also trusted with more ice time than the other rookies pretty much from the beginning, such was his generally undeniable offensive prowess.
Tkachuk does stand out in a couple of stats. His own ice time is lower than everyone else’s average, however that may be in part due to the fact we don’t yet have his end-of-season results (because those games haven’t been played yet), which may very well bring him up to numbers closer to Monahan and Bennett’s.
More strikingly, though, is that Tkachuk has not scored as many goals as the others, but clearly not for lack of trying. His shot rates are about the same as Monahan and Bennett’s, but his shooting percentage is much lower; he may, in fact, have more to give. Nevertheless, he’s still putting up more points at this stage of the season than Monahan and Bennett did thanks to his assists tallies. (Hell, if he had Gaudreau’s shooting percentage, he’d be rivalling him in points put up.)
Points are one thing, but what situation a rookie is played in and how well he responds to it tell a big part of the story, too.
|Player||5v5 CF%||5v5 OZS%|
Tkachuk’s numbers immediately stand out. Not only is his corsi significantly better than his teammates’ rookie years, it’s just flat out good in general. A caveat comes with it, though, in that Tkachuk is playing his rookie season under Glen Gulutzan, not Bob Hartley; Monahan and Gaudreau are both currently above 50% 5v5 CF for the first time under Gulutzan, too.
Meanwhile, Tkachuk’s offensive zone starts are substantially lower than those of his teammates. Again, it’s not even comparable. Bennett did noticeably better than Monahan in roughly the same circumstances and Gaudreau was understandably sheltered while racking up points, but Tkachuk’s numbers show an underlying maturity to his game none of his fellow rookies possessed.
Not all rookie seasons are created equal. Monahan was first up, playing in the midst of a rebuilding team that had few players of note. Gaudreau followed, being a whirlwind of excitement in his own right. Bennett came in on a team that was getting better and could afford to shelter him, and Tkachuk is starting off on a team with the most options yet that seems to be about to turn the corner.
|Player||Linemate 1||Shared 5v5 TOI||Linemate 2||Shared 5v5 TOI|
* keeping in mind that he’s still played roughly 25 or so fewer games at this point
Monahan clearly lost the linemate battle, while everyone else is doing pretty well for themselves. It is perhaps worth noting that Tkachuk is putting up better results with the same linemates Bennett had as a rookie; at the same time, Tkachuk has had the most consistency to his linemates (although Gaudreau is up there, too).
All in all
The Flames had been witness to three pretty good rookie seasons the past three seasons, but only one of those was truly exceptional: Gaudreau’s. He scored at an incredible pace and he was trusted with more ice time, though he was sheltered more and had some help from some pretty decent linemates.
Tkachuk is looking to have a better rookie season than Monahan and Bennett for sure, though. He’s already ahead of them offensively, and his underlying numbers are freakishly dominant. True, he also gets the benefit of good linemates – but so far he doesn’t have the benefit of decent ice time, nor does he have offensive zone starts working in his favour. At all.
Tkachuk is probably going to have to really turn it on if he wants to have a rookie season as tangibly successful as Gaudreau’s was, but even if he doesn’t, he’s still performing beyond expectations. Now, the hope is that he can keep it up: for both this season, and well into the future.
The Flames may not have a high profile rookie like these four in their lineup next season, but we’ve arguably been spoiled already. If that’s the case, Tkachuk is a hell of a closer.