Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Tkachuk is getting better (and smarter)

It goes without saying that Matthew Tkachuk is a really good hockey player. At just 20 years of age, he’s one of the Calgary Flames’ most talented, versatile players. And the good news for the Flames is he’s getting smarter with how he plays the game.

The Battle of Alberta last weekend was a polarizing 60 minutes of hockey – in addition to being a wildly entertaining hockey game.

If you reside north of Red Deer, you probably were frustrated with how the Edmonton Oilers let two key points slip through their fingers. If you’re from southern Alberta, you probably walked away fairly impressed with the Tkachuk’s composure in a first period skirmish with Zack Kassian.

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Tkachuk’s first shift of the game ended with a collision with Leon Draisaitl (that drew a minor penalty) and a trip to the locker room for a medical evaluation. He returned midway through the period and was challenged to a fight by Kassian off of a faceoff. Tkachuk declined, had his helmet knocked off, and then was the recipient of a few punches to the face.

With the Flames trailing 1-0 in a game with a key divisional opponent, Tkachuk took zero swings and Kassian was punished with a triple-minor for roughing and a misconduct. For a player that has been criticized at times in his young NHL career for crossing the line and playing on the edge, it was a shocking show of restraint.

The following day, Tkachuk explained his actions in response to a question from Postmedia’s Kristen Anderson regarding toeing the line:

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There was a couple opportunities that probably presented themselves yesterday that probably wasn’t smart of me to take part in. I know one instance in particular. I wasn’t necessarily happy with the first play that got me out for the first 10 minutes of the period. As much as maybe I wanted something to come from that when I came back nothing really happened. And then they tried to bait me into some things, but you have to be smart with that stuff. We’ll take the power plays. We’ll go out there and try to score. And winning the game made it a lot better.

Let’s be honest: a year ago, Tkachuk probably would’ve gotten suckered into a scrap. A year ago, he wouldn’t have been able to help himself. He’s a player that relishes riling up the opposition and being engaged in what hockey people call “the guts of the game” – battles in the corners and the front of the net. The qualities that make him such an effective player at drawing penalties and getting under his opponent’s skin are often the same qualities that make Flames management and fans cringe when he goes a little bit too far in the heat of the moment.

Remember when he was suspended for this incident last season against the Detroit Red Wings? It was a thoroughly stupid thing for Tkachuk to get himself involved in during a blowout loss, but he just couldn’t help himself. It ended up causing the Flames to miss a key player for a game.

This season’s version of Tkachuk is a year older and wiser. But he’s also a better hockey player and a crucial piece for his team’s success – he’s part of their shutdown line and their power play – and he knows it. The thing that was arguably lacking in Tkachuk’s game up until this season was self-awareness, a sense of how potential actions could hurt the team in key situations.

He’s probably going to draw fewer penalties this season than he did in his previous years, but he’s also more likely to be on the ice in key moments for the team when games are on the line. If Tkachuk is going to become a difference-maker at the NHL level, making decisions not to engage in scrums or fisticuffs (as he did against Edmonton) is a critical part of his development.

He’s a better and smarter player than he was last season, more aware of his importance to his team’s success and better able to pick his spots. It’s that part of his progression that makes him tremendously valuable to the Flames, and will likely make him a very well-compensated young man when his contract expires at the end of the season.

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    • Flaming moe

      I am the biggest flames fan there is. Tkachuk is good but not generational. I totally 100% agree with Kypreos and Burke’s take on what Tkachuk did last wknd in regards to going into the fetal position mid game. Yes he drew a penalty…. but Mr Tkachuk is going to have to fight if he is going to play the way he does. Before you trash me answer me this…. Is chucky seriously going to turtle everytime a guy that is 8 pounds heavier than him asks him to answer the bell? That wouldn’t be good for culture if you are expecting him to be a true leader with this group. Rant over… it just pisses me off to see a flames jersey in the fetal position and I hope to never see it again.

      • Heeeeere’s Johnny

        I don’t think Chucky’s chosen path had anything to do with 8 pounds heavier. It had a lot to do with 8 slots lower on the depth chart. That fight is a bad trade off and if you are a team guy you refuse and sucker the other guy into dumb penalties. Job well done. Scrap with Draisaitl? Fair trade. Let’s go.

        • Kevin R

          Yup, that makes about as much sense as McDavid fighting Peluso. FFS.
          Oilers do have enough brainless gorilla’s to deter & save Mcdavid from having to do so, but at a cost.

        • Flaming moe

          Leon has zero fights. Tkachuk is now only going to fight guys that have zero fights?
          ?? See what I mean. How is that a good culture to create? Tkachuk has fought many times in juniors and has several nhl fights. He shouldn’t be afraid to fight Kassian who isn’t even a good
          Fighter. Kassian gets his ass kicked most of
          The time.

          • TriPPiNvdUb

            @Flaming moe, Drisaddle is the one who did the slue-foot and then refused to answer the bell but all the heat vets put on Chucky. Who is the real coward in this sitiation? Fact is Kassian is a goon, his entire career is based on the fact that he punches people in the face, Its a bad trade off!

      • His Dudeness

        So by your logic Chucky has to fight some bum 4th liner every game because he plays with an edge and gets under the other teams skin?

        If McDavid or that big dumb German want to step up I’m sure Chucky would be more then happy to oblige.

        Of course you get trashed. Chucky alresdy showed he is willing to answer for his actions after he elbowed Doughty he fought right away the next game. Don’t listen to Coiler propaganda or the dinosaur talking heads on TV.

        • Flaming moe

          My point is PRIDE. Why do you think true media has been calling tkachuk out??? Cause it was tough to watch a big tough kid in the fetal position after running around all period. If Tkachuk had stood in there and pounded Kassian this team would be unstoppable. The culture it would create would be amazing.

      • TKO

        well, when your leading scorer starts fighting fourth line heavy weight goons, let me know.
        it was Drai who didn’t answer the bell and chickened out and wouldn’t back up his slew foot cheap shot
        calling Tkachuk a turtle just makes me happy as a flames fan, knowing how much he is in the heads of the other teams and their fan bases

      • buts

        Talk about turtle? MT is better than Linesman, Tikkenan, Lumley, Anderson and the multitude of other cheap shot, turtle, divers the coilers have had over the years.

      • Cfan in Van

        From visiting other nation posts, I think this guy is actually a Nucks fan. I’ve seen him attempt to troll the Flames, Oilers, and Jets (one of only two posts on that article). He was somewhat sympathetic when posting on Canucks Army.
        I could definitely be wrong here, but if I’m not, lets just take that into consideration with this guy. I’m pretty sure his team absolutely sucks, even by Oilers standards.

        • Chopper #2

          I thank Chia everyday for selecting Puljujarvi over Tkachuk. I think if the truth came out we would find out he selected Puljujarvi just to keep him from the Flames. He knew they needed RW’s so he made sure the Flames didn’t get him. Who’s laughing now Chia?

      • TriPPiNvdUb

        When you say Turtle, which one do you think he’s more like? At first I thought he was more of a Michelangelo but now I think see allot of Leonardo in him. Their all so great thats it’s hard to choose!

  • Off the wall

    He’s pretty eloquent with his choice of wording at such a young age. Great interview.

    The kid is going to be a Captain, it’s not a matter of (IF) but WHEN.

    I think wearing the A’ has helped him realize how important he is to our team. He’s wearing it like a badge of honour and has the heart to match.

    I love our curly haired, goalie hugging, sweet Byng!

    • Baalzamon

      I think wearing the A’ has helped him realize how important he is to our team. He’s wearing it like a badge of honour and has the heart to match.

      I’ve noticed the same thing. I always thought Monahan would be Giordano’s successor, but Tkachuk has me thinking differently now.

    • Cfan in Van

      Mature, beyond his years. Burke (I think it was Burke) was describing that he would find himself speaking with rookie Tkachuk on the same level as Giordano. Intelligence, matched with his relentless drive and inherited talent. What a recipe to watch come into fruition.

      • Flaming moe

        Gio would never turtle. If tkachuk is going to be a captain he can’t fn turtle man!!!! Marleau, Thornton, Getzlaf the list goes on and on. What when the going gets tough is he just going to tutrtle in hopes of a penalty? The refs will catch on just Iike they did with Avery.

        • calgaryfan

          (Flaming moe) I give you credit for voicing your opinion on here, it can get ugly real fast if you say something bad about a Flame hero. lol I left the site for a long time after voicing my opinion. It became vicious and personal.

        • LannyMac

          Wrong Moe Gio did turtle more or less last year when Lucic slashed him on the back of the leg. He skated away and left his goalie to fight his battles. I like Gio for the most part but that made me sick to watch as a flames fan. I’m guessing Tkachuk will tangle with Kardassian next game. I’m just hoping then Drish!tle will answer the bell when Tkachuk comes calling in the future. I’m guessing he won’t though he is more of chicken sh!t than Tkachuk is. The sad part is if Drish!tle makes 8.5 in relative terms Tkachuk should make over 11. Well done Chiarelli your such a Dbag hope Nicholson never fires you.

  • Spider you muda&@#ker

    I posted while that game was being played and my opinion was the same as Flaming Moe I was not digging a flames player in the fetal position I was pissed but the next day reading some of the posts and seeing the fallout on social media I was definitely wrong Chuckys our leading point getter and the main net presence on the pp seeing him go out with a broken jaw like Hamonic would of sucked and would of been exactly what Kassian was looking to do so good on Chucky by not being dumb totally agree with the other posters if it had been mcmuffin pretty sure Chucky would have been game for that

  • Albertabeef

    “And he’s just 20 years old”. I hate it when you guys say this when the kid turns 21 in two weeks. With that said, if he finishes the season with 87 points he will be the highest scoring 21 year old in franchise history and 93 points for the single season franchise record for a 21 year old. His current pace is 96 points. This comes from my own personal stat sheet in which I have compared players who played their rookie season for the Flames on a year by year basis twice, one by years played the other by age. Johnny is ripping up one sheet while Mony and Matty are killing on the other one. If I can figure out how to share these stats to Flamesnation I will. I did the comparison between Iggy and Theo, MacInnis and Nieuwendyk when Iggy hit 1000 points. Then after Johnny’s rookie season I started a new one to compare to new crop of kids to the old ones. It started off small with just Mony and Johnny and the top old guys buy I’ve expanded it over time adding guys along the way. Took some out too like Bouma when he was let go. I tried to keep it at a minimum of three full seasons played with the Flames to start their NHL career to qualify for my list. So no Lanny, no Gilmore, and no Hull. Took me months to finish as I didn’t have home internet at the time but I’m sure I’m at least 99% accurate. As I was doing this I found a few errors in the Flames Media Guides(I have them all from 08-18) so anything is possible.

    Reichel 223 79 104 183
    Reinhart 215 40 135 175
    Monahan 237 80 78 158
    Iginla 234 62 71 133
    Tkachuk 144 37 60 97 currently 167 49 75 124

    Nieuwendyk 75 51 41 92
    Reichel 80 40 48 88
    Suter 80 18 50 68
    Peplinski 74 30 37 67
    MacInnis 67 14 52 66

    Good luck Matty!!! Go Flames go!

  • aye

    As much as I love Chucky and think we absolutely stole him at #6, I still wonder sometime what would happen if the Jets hadn’t won that last game in the 15/16 season, and it would’ve been Flames with the 2nd pick, and drafting Laine. Now there’s a generational goal scorer (5 goals against the Blues tonight, and 3rd hat-tricks in November), and would’ve solved the Flames RW problem for the next decade. Don’t think Tre would’ve signed Brouwer, nor Neal.
    Ok, so now we have Chucky and Lindholm instead, not complain at all, just musing what would happen in the alternate universe.

    • His Dudeness

      I would rather have Tkachuk, players like Laine cost a fortune and are pretty much one dimensional. I’m sure this will be unpopular and get trashed but I would consider moving Laine out for a huge return if I was the Jets. If he scores 60+ this year he’s going to want McDavid money and imo he isn’t worth that.

      As a Flames fan I hope he scores 70+ and demands a max contract.

    • The GREAT JP

      Wow. I have never even thought about this scenario. Was so happy about Tkachuk falling in the Flames laps I never considered the what if with Laine. That would have been swell as well.

  • Spider you muda&@#ker

    Doubt Laine is going to get McDavid money even if he gets 70 goals Winnipegs GM is way to tight with the wallet similair to BT they are both skilled negotiators not like the retard up north because you know Laine and Chucky will be using Leons contract as a comparable

  • Burnward

    What I dream of hearing;
    “Hey. My old man made almost 80 million playing thsi game. I could have been a trust fund kid. But that’s not in my DNA. I love hockey. I love Calgary. I love my teammates.
    8×7 is a reasonable fair deal and I will still have another huge contract before my career is over.
    Until then, I want to win right here.”