23Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew Tkachuk versus rookies of Flames past

That Matt Tkachuk kid truly is something special.

Viewed as a consolation prize in the loaded 2016 draft, we had questions about whether Tkachuk would get past 10 games.

Now we only have questions about how high his ceiling is. He’s been much better than expected. Tkachuk is the final piece on the 3M line, one of hockey’s most dominant three-man units this year. He’s a kid who plays like a man, quietly becoming one of the NHL’s best puck possession players (10th in the entire dang league for players with over 500 5v5 minutes!), putting in great shift after great shift, and just generally being a treat to watch.

And the Flames have been blessed with said treats. In the past few years, we’ve seen Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, and Micheal Ferland rise up through the ranks. It’s not just confined to this era, either. The Flames, as a franchise, have seen five Calder winners. There’s been a lot of talent being raised up with a Flaming C.

Unfortunately, Tkachuk won’t be in the competition for the Calder this year, but the question is worth asking: how does he stack up against Flames rookies from days gone by?

Tkachuk versus every other rookie Flames forward

All data in this section from hockey-reference.com‘s Play Index. Players had to qualify as rookies and play 25 NHL games (i.e., lose rookie status that season) to be included on the list.

Since they started as the Atlanta Flames in 1972, 82 different forwards have had their rookie season in Flames duds. That’s a list that ranges from Joe Nieuwendyk’s 50-goal, 92-point Calder year in 1987-88 to first round pick Chris Dingman scoring six points in 70 games 10 years later.

Here’s some highlights from that list:

  • Tkachuk finished tied for 16th in scoring, and tied for 17th in points per game.
  • That breaks down further into seventh in assists, but 29th in goals scored.
  • Unsurprisingly, he finished eighth in PIMs, and is also the eighth Flames rookie to ever record over 100.
  • Perhaps the most impressive thing about Tkachuk is that he’s also the second youngest (measured on Oct. 1) rookie forward to start and stick with the Flames, the youngest being Dan Quinn. Monahan was older than him by about two months. Even if we count Sam Bennett joining the team for the 2014-15 playoffs, he’s just a shade older than Tkachuk was at the start of the season.

The stat I’m most interested in, however, is h-ref’s point share stat. The article is a bit wordy and math-y, so here’s a summary: point shares takes into account many aspects of a player’s performance, measured on both the defensive and offensive side, and estimates how many standings points a player would have contributed in total. It’s kind of similar to Ryan’s favourite game score stat.

Here’s what I find ridiculously impressive about Tkachuk: he finished sixth overall (appropriate), contributing 5.4 points to the Flames’ final total. He’s a full point ahead of guys like Monahan, Brett Hull, Paul Ranheim, and Hakan Loob. Even better, 1.9 of those 5.4 points were purely on the defensive side, which was good for second overall among the 82. He was just .1 points shy of tying Johnny Gaudreau for #1 on the list.

Of course, he’s held back on his 3.5 offensive point shares, “only” finishing 10th. If there’s any consolation for poor Matthew, he was .1 away from tying Hull and Loob.

Tkachuk versus Flames rookies in the analytics era

All data from this section is from corsica.hockey, and 5v5. Players need to play 25 games.

Of course, points aren’t the whole story. As detailed in the intro, what’s most impressive about Tkachuk is his ability to drive play.

So going back to data from 2007-08, let’s look at how every rookie was used, measured by CFrel% and Zone start ratio rel%:

So Matthew Tkachuk is way to the left and way the hell up. That’s what we call the “better than everyone else” corner.

The only players who are close to Tkachuk by possession numbers are also studs: Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie (Brodie’s CFrel% was actually slightly better). But they didn’t have to put up with the disadvantages Tkachuk faced. The one other guy who faced the same battles Tkachuk did was Garnet Hathaway, who is pretty much the anti-Tkachuk.

Unless you have to, there’s no real reason to play a rookie the way the Flames played Tkachuk. Regardless of who is coaching, the idea that you should shelter your rookies remains prevalent. The cluster of dudes with about 5% ZSR or better (i.e., Sean Monahan, Markus Granlund, Sam Bennett, Josh Jooris) is perhaps proof of this. Regardless of how they actually performed with regards to possession, these guys were rarely used in the defensive zone unless need be.

Tkachuk is the opposite. There was no need to ever give him that end of the stick. If you look at the guys on the left side of zero, you see rookies who jumped into the league as fourth liners; guys who aren’t getting offensive zone starts because of that line’s role on the team. Tkachuk started on the third line with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer, moved up to the second line, and helped turn it into the first line. Even compared to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, first liners by necessity when they joined the league, those guys were still sheltered. If possible, they were given the high ground. It’s the opposite for Tkachuk.

Tkachuk vs Gaudreau

Of course, the only real competition for Tkachuk in recent history is Gaudreau’s spectacular 2014-15 campaign.

Gaudreau put up a year that deserved much more than third place in Calder voting. He was arguably the catalyst that pushed that team into the playoffs, especially when the 13-23-24 line started clicking.

So how do the two stack up? Let’s do a little statistical weigh in:

Matthew Tkachuk Name Johnny Gaudreau
 18 years, 295 days  Age (Oct. 1)  21 years, 49 days
 76-13-35-48  GP-G-A-P 80-24-40-64
 +7.47%  CFrel%  +3.07%
 22.16%  OZS%  38.59%
 12.15  TOI/g  13.94
 2.08  P/60  1.72
 1.62  P1/60  1.29

Even with Johnny scoring 16 more points in four more games, there’s quite the case for Tkachuk’s rookie season being better than Gaudreau’s.

At the time, Johnny was two years and change older than Tkachuk, having spent a lot of formative time at Boston College. He was also relatively sheltered compared to what Tkachuk faced, and ice time appears to heavily influence his point totals. Tkachuk was also the better primary producer of offence, which gives him an advantage. There’s really no stat that you can point to and say that Gaudreau was the better rookie than Tkachuk.

Not to disparage the fine works of Johnny Hockey, but damn. Johnny was a great rookie. Matthew Tkachuk was somehow better. This kid is scary good.

      • dontcryWOLF88

        Hey, for what it’s worth. I’ll say I think it’s a good thing when the author of the article(Christian, in this case) comes down into the comment section. Makes it feel like more of a community.

        Also, it’s always beneficial to add knowledgeable opinions to the mix, which all current FN writers count as (in my opinion).

  • Randaman

    He’s also scary dirty. I mean, if you want to paint this unicorn and rainbow picture of your star rookie that slewfoot, targets the back, etc., fine but at least try to paint a correct picture. Stupid penalties hurt his team at times during the season. He just needs to reel it in a little bit.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Like Dirty McDavid who cross-checks players in the back of their head while on the ice? or the Deutschland Jab / Blitzkrieg Spear Attack by Leon? Honorable mention to Kassian, Maroon, Lucic, Nurse, Gryba and Hendricks…. All who get the “Dirty McDavey Bettman Blind-fold bump” from the reffs. Must be nice to not have to reel it in a bit.

      • class1div1

        So true, and no call on Mcdavid .Tkachuk would have got 5 min major ,a game misconduct and a date in New York.
        The Bettman Blind fold bump pretty much sums up what this league has become.
        Bettman and his marketing gurus must think they need to sway WWE fans over to the NHL Those fans love there Hero vs Villain type drama, and Bettman can supply that through the officials.

  • class1div1

    How would Bennett have looked this year playing with Backlund? Would you still be calling Hamilton the best defenseman if he wasn’t playing with Gio? Your numbers suggest Gio is the lucky one.I could never believe that.

    • Bennett’s stats last year with Backlund and Frolik were across the board worse than what Tkachuk did with them this year. Bennett had easier circumstances, too. Not sure what you’re talking about with Hamilton and Giordano.

      • class1div1

        Not sure if your stats support this ,but my eye thinks Backlund made a big step forward this year over former years.
        I am a big Hamilton fan ,but don’t think he would have the same success without Gio..One of the writers just posted that Gio numbers suggested he was lucky to be playing with Hamilton

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      There are a lot players that skate like Tkachuk that won’t get a sniff of the NHL. This shows how high his hockey IQ is to be able to excel against top competition. He does not have the explosiveness to run players without taking himself out of the play.

      I see a lot is similiarities in his game to Mark Stone. I see this as MTs ceiling once his skating improves which is fantastic. MTs grit and toughness combined with his hockey IQ and skill set is a tantalizing package.

  • Pyroflatulence

    MT has great vision and awareness on the nice, and makes some sweet passes that most other players wouldn’t think about or attempt. He’s a great core player to build around for the future.

  • Alberta Ice

    Considering our place in the draft last year, I was ecstatic we got Matthew Tkachuk. He adds toughness to the team along with a lot of hockey skill and sense at his young age. Finding that delicate line between what the refs call and what the refs let go will happen as he matures at the pro level. His future looks bright.

  • Stu Cazz

    We are lucky to have this kid and his talents. I’m sure he recognizes he needs to work on his skating and that should be a focus area in his development…

  • Lucky 13

    Thanks Christian, I can’t help but marvel at some of Tkachuk’s accomplishments this season. This kid is going to be a staple of this team and I just hope they don’t stifle the edge that he plays with.

    After the Doughty incident, he really took the feistiness out of his game. I guess suspensions do that to a kid learning the league ropes.

    Being so young and already with a tremendous hockey sense with grit is enviable position for any hockey team. Its difficult to measure his ceiling after such an amazing season. But I’m sure we have only seen the tip of the iceberg from him.

    Looking forward to seeing him blazing a new trail for himself in his no nonsense approach to this game.

  • tomger

    Hi my names tom im an oilers fan and i despise this player your lucky to have him hes gonna get stronger smarter and faster as time goes on and i hate that.

  • RedMan

    You and the other oiler troll’s gnashing of the teeth over MT is music to my ears. Thanks for confirming the place MT holds in your collective heads? Warms my heart.

  • RKD

    Tkachuk is a great player, he is offensively talented he plays hard and competes every shift and brings a lot if energy of course a few I mentioned can’t be measured. He has a high ceiling but man if he starts doing what Johnny is doing that would be something. Will he ever get top 3 minutes? Will he ever be on the top line? I bet 29 other teams would love to have him.