There are two camps of Matthew Tkachuk observers. The first is a group of individuals – like myself – who adore every moment of his existence as he does everything humanly possible to irritate the other team and their fans. The other is those who may – or may not – pray to whatever deity they worship in hopes of some meteor appearing from the heavens, striking him down as he stands.
Whether you love him or hate him there is no denying that his season as a whole was an extreme positive in a year of topsy-turvy stories that pushed many to the brink.
2016-17 season summary
Realistically, there’s nowhere to start other than the part where he wasn’t even remotely considered to make the roster after his nine-game audition. After securing his roster spot he made it clear by his 10th game in the NHL he would be sticking around as he scored two goals – his first and only multi-goal game of the year – against the San Jose Sharks. Even after sustaining a cut and missing some time, Tkachuk was back at it on a tour of chaos that continued to garner more and more attention than expected.
By the end of November, he would be on one of the best lines in Flames history, and one of the best in the league this season: the 3M line, comprised of Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik.
This effort by the Tkachuk/Backlund/Frolik line is amazing. Backlund's work in DZ to everyone in the OZ.
This is the best line still. pic.twitter.com/am6RyQmKC8
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) December 9, 2016
It’s this decision by Glen Gulutzan to play the rookie with these two veterans that saw his game take off in more ways than just the score sheet. A lot was said early on that Tkachuk was a passenger at times – and to be fair, he probably was – but there’s no denying that his individual skills he possesses were vital to the line’s success.
The ferocious winger’s best stretch of point production came between Dec. 19, 2016 and Jan. 7, 2017: a nine-game point streak where he amassed a goal and nine assists. It was a fantastic way to close out the calendar year and start the new year, a new year which brought forth some of the darker sides of his game. In that time we saw more and more of what makes it so special.
Holy hell Tkachuk. RIP Kronwall. pic.twitter.com/vStiJCJswg
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) March 4, 2017
There’s no denying that Tkachuk’s mean streak and the tendencies he possesses have put immeasurable distaste upon him. He’s labeled as dirty, a future Matt Cooke, and/or a spitting image of his father. A suspension for elbowing Drew Doughty cost the rookie two games and drew increased ire from fans around the league.
Really, at the end of the day – or at the end of the season, for that matter – it all fed into the Matthew Tkachuk tour of friendship. Thirteen goals and 35 assists for a rookie primarily deployed in some of the more difficult situations isn’t anything to scoff at. Tkachuk’s work with his two linemates helped keep the Flames in it at times when the season looked all but finished.
If you ignore the post-whistle scrums, the cheapshots, and everything else non-essential to evaluating results, the calculated entropy Tkachuk helps create is a valuable asset to his game. Primarily regarded as a passenger in junior, we saw an evolution of his game – as a rookie – this past season that helps foster a bright outlook of what he can do next season. Let’s start with the basics, the impact on 5v5 shot generation that he brings (via HockeyViz.com):
The kid has a nose for the net and for shot generation and when he’s on the ice – and not taking penalties – he’s a positive force at 5v5. If you’re unsure about that, looking at the contrast of what Tkachuk brings while on ice is a stark reality of things. All the more impressive is the fact that due to penalties and the power play, Tkachuk really hovered around third line minutes at 5v5 in his rookie year. Even more impressive than that – within the aforementioned parameters – is the raw outputs and rated stats that Tkachuk put up this year (5v5 data via Corsica):
It’s not startling in the least to want to see what he can do next year – maybe on a different line – to see if he can take a step forward from his results this past year. It’s worth noting that Tkachuk’s individual outputs (points, iCF60, etc.) were nothing to scoff at either (minimum of 500 min. at 5v5 – Flames forwards only):
- 25 of his 32 5v5 points were primary (in all situations 38 of his 48 total points were primary)
- Tkachuk averaged 1.62 primary points per 60 minutes at 5v5 (second behind Johnny Gaudreau)
- 2.08 points per 60 at 5v5 (second again behind Gaudreau)
- fourth in terms of iCF60 (individual CF per 60) at 5v5 with 12.15
Factoring in xG (expected goals) models, per Corsica’s xG model, Tkachuk’s 5v5 results (nine) were under his expected totals (12) which again lends a bit more to the theory he did suffer from unlucky bounces going his way at times. Looking at DTMAboutHeart’s xG model, Tkachuk again under performed slightly with DTM’s xG model, which expected 11 goals from the forward. That said, there is extreme promise he can improve his goal totals as he matures in the NHL.
The Flames have a great forward in Matthew Tkachuk. There’s no denying that penalty troubles – despite being one of the best in the league at drawing them – were an issue for him, along with his suspension. Everyone will have eyes on him to see if he can rein in his game and focus more on the positives he legitimately brings, whether it’s on a line again with Backlund and Frolik, or on a new line.
There’s a lot to digest on whether or not you could see him with Sam Bennett, a centre who struggled mightily at driving play on his own. Part of that was linemates, part of it was a year maligned with struggles. It’s entirely possible Tkachuk can help him and it would give fans another opportunity to see if Tkachuk is just as lethal with lesser linemates.
Hopefully there’s further opportunities to see his skill set utilized more on the power play one unit as well. He can play a net front role as well as work incredibly well below the goal line, two areas worth making changes on.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan|