Three years ago, the Flames stood at a crossroads. After a surprise playoff appearance, the Flames suffered through a hangover (sometimes literally) in the 2015-16 season. Their goaltending fell apart, the coach got fired, and everybody who emerged out of thin air to help the team overachieve disappeared just as quickly. Just as the team looked to be taking steps out of the rebuilding era, they tumbled back down into the draft lottery.
Their key asset was the sixth overall pick. In a draft that appeared to have three standouts in Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi, the Flames had a consolation prize in the sixth overall pick and plenty of questions surrounding it. Do they trade it for a goalie? Do they move up? Do they go defender or forward? Do they make a hockey trade? Nylander, Tkachuk, or Dubois? It was imperative to do the right thing with the pick, or else it could be a few more years wandering the desert.
Three years later, the Flames have one of the crown jewels from that draft in Matthew Tkachuk. By standing pat, thanks in part to a few draft gaffes, the Flames found themselves with a superstar that has helped push the team to the next level.
2018-19 season summary
Ho hum, just his normal dominant self.
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/gp||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
Seriously though, that’s underselling him a bit. Tkachuk set new highs in every scoring category, both at 5v5 and on the powerplay. For the third consecutive year, he lead the forwards in 5v5 CF% and 5v5 CF% rel. Rates wise, he finished first in CF/60 and third in CA/60, behind Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan. That is also standard fare for Tkachuk’s career thus far.
He primarily spent the season with the 3M line, although occasionally saw a new RW from time to time. Him and Mikael Backlund saw Michael Frolik, Austin Czarnik, James Neal, and Sam Bennett on their line at various points of the season, although Frolik was the most frequent RW by a large margin. The 3M line was, once again, one of the Flames’ most effective 5v5 units.
Unlike previous seasons, Tkachuk did move away from Backlund and Frolik. When Bill Peters’ blender broke out, Tkachuk often got bumped up to play RW with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, which was pretty good in bursts, but never got a long enough look to see what they could do with more ice time. There was also a brief stint where Tkachuk started with Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett, though that proved fruitless.
Tkachuk also saw heavy powerplay time for the first time this season, occupying a permanent spot on the first unit. He finished the season second on the Flames in PP goalscoring, and third in total PP points.
Compared to last season
Well besides getting much, much better, not much changed for Tkachuk. He was with Mikael Backlund facing off against other teams’ best units, consistently seeing second line minutes.
What changed was the usage. Tkachuk and the rest of the 3M line saw more offensive zone starts, and Tkachuk also saw heavy usage as a net-front presence on the PP1. Those were both major differences from last season, where the 3M line was pretty much only tasked with defensive starts and Tkachuk only played on the powerplay two-thirds of the way into the season.
What about next season?
Well, the first hurdle to clear is the looming contract extension. Tkachuk is going to get paid, likely enough to become the highest paid on the roster. With the Flames being pretty close to the cap ceiling, it’s going to be a long summer of figuring out how to make it all work.
But once that stress passes, it’s nothing but optimism for Tkachuk’s future. At the ripe young age of 21, Tkachuk already has made a reputation as one of the league’s biggest nuisances, but will now also have the added title of being one of the NHL’s best offensive players.
Given how he’s grown from season to season, it’s possible that he gets even better. There’s rarely been an area where Tkachuk has struggled, so it’s likely he is handed tougher challenges next year. Peters has alluded to using him as the first line RW, which might be something that we see more often next season given how the first line fizzled out towards the end of the year. More offensive exposure for one of the Flames’ most impactful player? Yes please.