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What line should Matthew Tkachuk be on next season?

Matthew Tkachuk came as a pleasant surprise to the Calgary Flames in 2016-17. The first pleasant surprise was that he was available at sixth overall in the draft to begin with, the second was that he was ready to be a full-time NHLer, and the third was that he wasn’t just ready to be a full-timer – he was ready to be a top player.

Part of that came from his linemates. Of the 930 5v5 minutes Tkachuk played over the regular season, 780 of them were spent with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. When the team was still trying to find itself, Tkachuk was placed on a line with the team’s best two-way players, and the three pretty much instantly clicked. They were the most consistent group for the Flames over the entire season.

That was 2016-17, though. Next season will be different – so should things stay the same?

Who should Tkachuk play with for the 2017-18 campaign?

Option 1: Keep things the same

Why mess with what works? The 3M line wasn’t just one of the best lines on the Flames – it was one of the best lines in the entire NHL, period. This was a trio that started often in the defensive zone, and were experts at driving the play north – not to mention how each member of the line was a 40+ point player. (Combined, they accumulated 145 points, feeding off of one another.)

The case to keep Tkachuk, Backlund, and Frolik together is simple: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There’s a case for Tkachuk to play on another line, though. For one thing, Backlund and Frolik are 28 and 29 years old, respectively; they’ve got a decade on Tkachuk. That’s not to say that Tkachuk can’t play with players older than him, but more that it may not be a particularly viable solution in the longer term.

Another reason to break them up? The past two seasons, Backlund and Frolik have proven to be great mentors for rookies. Before they helped ease Tkachuk into the NHL, they helped Sam Bennett. If a rookie winger makes the team – say Hunter Shinkaruk, Morgan Klimchuk, Andrew Mangiapane – then who better for him to get his start with?

Even if that isn’t the case, though, there are other options to play alongside Backlund and Frolik. Aside from the novelty of having an all-Mike line, Micheal Ferland could fit well with them: he’s someone else who doesn’t have elite offensive potential, but can drive play and put up points if given the chance. If he’s brought back, Kris Versteeg could fit in well, too.

Option 2: Reunite with Bennett

The Flames’ line configurations to start the season saw Tkachuk and Troy Brouwer flanking Bennett. Now, that may not be feasible nowadays – we’re well aware of Brouwer’s playing ability at this point – but the idea of pairing Tkachuk with Bennett shouldn’t be dismissed. Not only are they nearly the same age, but they have similar playing styles as well: two high-potential scorers who also play physical and get under the opponent’s skin.

It would fit in with the philosophy of having pairs of forwards. Backlund and Frolik are a pair, and the same goes for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. If Bennett and Tkachuk can be that third pair, then that’s a very good basis for a top nine.

This is, of course, dependent on Tkachuk and Bennett clicking. We don’t know if they can – but they only played 60 minutes at 5v5 together last season. It’s certainly worth re-exploring, especially as Bennett’s role on this team is still to be determined. Besides, Bennett deserves a higher-caliber linemate, and Tkachuk could be just that guy.

Option 3: Load up the top

Tkachuk can play all three forward positions.

Ferland worked with Gaudreau and Monahan, but he isn’t totally on their level. He’s a good player, but the top line still leaves a little something to be desired.

So if Tkachuk can play the right wing, why not play him alongside the Flames’ top two scorers? He finished fifth in team scoring as a rookie, and that was with defensive zone starts. If he joined the top line, he’d be put in position to score much more often, not to mention he’d have more offensively talented linemates to work with. He’d probably score more – all while maintaining a physical element on the top line.

He’s basically Ferland, but already much better. It would leave some questions for the Flames’ depth, but what’s more important: the top line, or the depth?

(Alternatively, Tkachuk could stay on the left side and Gaudreau could be played on the right; it’s been experimented with a bit at the World Championships.)

Which one? 

There’s really no bad place for Tkachuk in the lineup. No matter where he ends up, he’s probably going to make his linemates better than they already are.

So what it comes down to is a matter of preference. Do you stick with what you know? Do you look to give another young player with elite potential a boost? Or do you put everything into your top line?

Tkachuk is already an outstanding player, so there’s probably no wrong answer.

  • Puckhead

    MT on the 3rd line is a waste of talent. The second (3M) is a good development line for a promising prospect. Ferland was good on the 1st line but I think we all know this is not a long-term solution. The 1st line needs some grit and a person to police the hand slashing. Promote MT to the 1st line and let’s see if he has what it takes. He’s earned the opportunity

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Playing an offensive threat on a shutdown line that gets buried in the D-zone is a bit of a waste. Wonder what he could do on a more offensive line. He should be on a line where that offensive talent can be exploited. Either 1st line or Bennett’s line. His possession abilities would benefit Bennett. Poor Bennett had Chaisson as a linemate, and though Chai isn’t a bad player, he lost possession more than he held it. Having him play with Monahan would benefit the defensive side of the top line. At times, they were our biggest liability.

  • TheoForever

    I would remove Tkachuk from the 3M line, and play him with Bennett, plus an older guy.
    Put Jankowski on the wing with Backlund and Frolik.
    Keep Ferland with Mony and Johnny.
    This should give 3 good lines.

  • SeanCharles

    Tkachuk-Monahan-Gaudreau
    Frolik-Backlund-Lazar
    Ferland-Bennett-Versteeg

    Have Janko start out as the 4th line centre or he can alternate spots with Lazar as they both develop while playing regularly.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I can props everyone’s ideas because I agree with Ari… there is no wrong answer here. I love the thought of Matthew on the top line, I love the thought of him and Bennett together. Strangely the tried and tested answer of the 3M line is the least appealing to me at the moment. I like the thought of Lazar or Jankowski getting that spot to develop.

    • FuNky ANGER

      Not sure I love that line option as I doubt Jankowski can be a better centre than Bennett in his first season in the NHL; even if he is a “natural centre”. Bennett could be played on the wing and develop further like his draft classmate Draisaitl … but Jankowski in the imediate future is not the best centre for that line.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    There really isn’t a wrong answer, he’s a well rounded player and can fit into a lot of spots. I would like to backs and frolik mentor some youth like lazar. Give the kid some good teammates and see if he sinks or swims. I think he will succeed like the last 2 first rounders who they developed

  • OKG

    Go all in on a big line:
    Tkachuk-Jankowski-Monahan
    then go all in on a fast line:
    Gaudreau-Bennett-Ferland
    then go all in on a tenacious line
    Klimchuk-Backlund-Frolik
    then go all in on a kid line
    Mangiapane-Lazar-Hathaway/Hamilton

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      If this were to be a possibility I myself would tinker just a we bit…
      Tkachuk-Jankowski-Monahan -> Monahan-Jankowski-Tkachuk, As Tkachuk can play RW & Monahan is a LHS….
      Klimchuk-Backlund-Frolik I like this because Klimchuk is suppose to be a really good two-way player, who better to learn at the NHL Level than from Backlund & Frolik…
      Mangiapane-Lazar-Hathaway/Hamilton, -> I’d put Shinkaruk in place of Mangiapane due to he has more experience and Mangiapane needing/learning more AHL time.
      The Flames will be an interesting team in two years… That is for sure!

      • OKG

        I prefer Monahan’s offense from the right side tbh. With his shot he would constantly be able to get good looks off out of the cycle.

        Mangiapane needs less AHL time than Shinkaruk. he’s a better offensive player and a better two-way player, and he’s way less soft. It’

        • ThisBigMouthIsRight

          I have to disagree with you on Mangiapane/Shinkaruk, Both Jankowski & Shinkaruk were outstanding during the Heats Playoffs. Both guys got major praise from Coach Huska and by Both the Heat & Barracuda play by play guys when talking about who stood out and was noticeably better than the players around them.. Personally I’d put Mangiapane up there too but not quite yet. All good things to hear and it was fun to watch them play in the Playoffs this year, they (like the Flames) deserved a better fate than the bad bounces they got…

  • Backburner

    I love Ferland, but I would rather see Tkachuk have a shot at the top line, than reunite Bennett with Backlund and Frolik. Have a really solid top six:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
    Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
    Ferland – Lazar – Versteeg

      • Puckhead

        The team is trending in the right direction, the guys will be one year older, some guys will move on and others will move in.

        There is also no pressure to win it all now. It’s a measured rebuild that should result in a competitive team over the long term.

        • jakethesnail

          No pressure to win it all next season..BUT this was supposed to be a transition year because we had to live with some bad contracts expiring this season. Need to promote one or two from the farm and exchange some vets for better ones.

  • Brodano12

    JG-SM-MF (Two and a half men line) – top 6 competition and favourable zone starts

    M.Janko-M.Backso-M.Froyo (new 3M line) – top line competition and defensive zone starts

    Tkachuk-Bennett-Versteeg (Pain in the ass line) – bottom 6 competition and favourable zone starts

    Stajan-Lazar-Chiasson/Hathaway (energy line) – bottom 6 competition and defensive zone starts.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think it comes down to MTs skating…if he can develop his explosiveness then plYing on the top line makes sense. He was clearly a step behind the others in the playoffs.

  • Wow

    I think Bennett needs MT the most. Ferland has proven serviceable with JH and SM.
    Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland
    Klimchuk-Backlund-Frolik
    Tkachuk-Bennett-Versteeg
    Gives the Flames a solid top 9 and 4th line would depend on who gets picked by Vegas.
    MT can always be placed back with the Mikes if he doesnt click with Bennett, but I think it’s time he received some quality linemates to center.

  • Newbietwo

    Ari if I recall Bennett and Chucky played together per season and first few games.. although it was with slow mo Brouwer what was both Chucky and Bennetts underlying numbers?

    • Ari Yanover

      Don’t have preseason stats. Over the ~60 5v5 regular season minutes they played together, they were 54.9% CF, OZone 48.3%. Small sample size, but that’s a pretty corsi.

  • Just.Visiting

    I’ll go with door number three, please. I continue to struggle with the choice not to explore that possibility around the time that Ferland was moved there. As a minimum, he should get a first unit cycle on the PP.

  • Lucky 13

    I honestly hope Tkachuk can play of the 1st line. The idea of Tkachuk playing left side and Johnny on the right side makes a lot of sense to me. Johnny needs to get off shots quicker and playing for one timers would work with Tkachuk and Monahan.

    My wish is the following:
    Tkachuk- Monahan- Gaudreau
    Ferland- Backlund- Frolik
    Versteeg- Bennett- Lazar
    Shinkaruk- Jankowski- Chiasson

    Hope Brouwer disappears via Vegas?

  • freethe flames

    After watching last nights playoff game it is even more clear to me that the Flames need to build 4 lines that play and that means there really is no room in the inn for any of the $10mm 4th line. That being said it is up to the young guys to earn a job and prove they belong in the NHL. Going with the following lines makes sense: Johnny/Monny/Ferland while Ferland is not the idea fit he brings the physical nature to that line along with his shooting ability. Janko/Backs/Frolik; Janko is big man with skills and his reputation of being a 200 foot player is ideal for this spot, he gets to learn with 2 very good NHLers, he will learn the NHL game and probably be ready to move to center by the end of the season. Tkachuk/Bennett/Versteeg this line intrigues me especially because both Tkachuk and Bennett can be real instigators with skill; lots here is dependent on how Bennetts off season goes. Versteeg rounds that line out with skill and a veteran presence. The last line is more up in the air but one of (Mangipane/Shinkaruk/Klimchuk)/Lazar/(Hathaway/Chaisson). Someone asked earlier why Lazar gets so much attention; simply put he is a RHC and he is likely the best prospect we have there. If either FHamilton or Vey can beat him out for that spot so be it but it is likely the Flames protect him in the draft which means he has the edge for that spot. So that leaves the tough job of what to do with the $10mm line and that won’t be solved until after the expansion draft. Hopefully LVGK takes one of them. Bouma could be buried in the AHL like Bollig was this year and the other one can be a popcorn eater.

  • freethe flames

    I am wondering out loud if BT will make some moves prior to having to file his protected list. Looking at some of the teams out there; they have guys who would be an upgrades on our lists and they can’t protect them all. If as most of us assume that Lazar will likely be protected over Brouwer are there not guys better than Lazar; look at Minny, Columbus as examples of young forwards.

  • kantsequentialist

    Sign Oshie and give him a chance with Johnny and Mony. Move Ferland to 3M line. MT Bennet Chaisson for now.

    If it doesn’t work, put Ferland back on top line and give Oshie to MT and Bennet.

    Point is, Johnny and Mony are a pair. MT and Bennet. Backs and Frolik. Movable pieces are Oshie, Ferland, Chaisson, Versteeg, Lazar, Shinkaruk etc….

    • freethe flames

      How much do you pay Oshie? Every UFA signing has the same problem $$. While getting a RW for Johnny/Monny line would be nice the priorities need to a 4th defender and a goaltending tandem.

    • piscera.infada

      Oshie shot at just over 23% this past season–almost a full 10% over his career average (13.4%). Now, I don’t dislike Oshie as a player, and I do think he could fit well on that top line. We do have to understand though, that the Oshie of this season likely won’t be the Oshie over the term of his contract. Moreover, he’s almost certainly not worth the dollar and term he’s going to get as a UFA this season. The Flames (save for Brouwer) are very close to being rid of all their bad money. Treliving needs to make sure he doesn’t more.

  • Vinnsanity12

    I find the disrespect (unintended?) towards Ferland maddening. It’s no coincidence that Mony and Johnny really started to find their groove once he joined them. Ferland’s skill set is crazy for a big man and his hands are like velvet. He makes a lot of subtle plays that go unnoticed. I’m probably alone, but I feel that he offers everything Tkachuk does if not more, but he just needs a prolonged opportunity. I can only imagine where his point totals would be if he’d been given the PP time that Chiasson and Brouwer were. Tkachuk is fine where he is, though I find the pairing of him with Bennett intriguing.