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|
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.