Four years into his NHL career, it’s already safe to label Matthew Tkachuk as “damn good.” He’s already one of the NHL’s top talents who brings everything a team needs to win a lot of games.
The Flames went without Tkachuk for the final four games of their first round playoff series against the Dallas Stars, and they didn’t do very well at all in them. Given how important Tkachuk is to the Flames’ success, their losses in those games weren’t really a surprise.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at Tkachuk’s first season as the Flames’ leading scorer.
2019-20 season summary
Matthew Tkachuk was a force to be reckoned with whenever he set foot on the ice this season, establishing a new level of personal dominance and setting the pace offensively for the Flames.
(Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick)
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Very few Flames can control play like Tkachuk. He’s creative, smart, and quick to make a pass or take a shot. He almost always makes the right decisions; plays very seldom “die on his stick.”
This year, he helped form a tremendous even-strength unit with Andrew Mangiapane and Mikael Backlund that totally dominated their opponents. Those three players led all Flames regulars in expected goals/60, with Mangiapane and Tkachuk both finishing top-five on the team in expected goals percentage.
The Tkachuk-Backlund combo, in particular, has been dynamite since it originated in 2016-17. At first glance, it may seem somewhat unorthodox for Tkachuk, now the Flames’ top offensive player, to still be playing with Backlund, who’s now in his 30s and who might seem best oriented in a defensive role.
But that combination simply works, and it was on full display for the Flames down the stretch. I’ve mentioned December 5 before as a bit of a turning point for the Flames’ season — it was the day Milan Lucic scored his first goal with the team, coming shortly after the team named Geoff Ward interim head coach — and it was also the day that Mikael Backlund started clicking with Tkachuk again after an inconsistent start to the year under Bill Peters. Backlund scored 13 goals and 35 points in his final 41 games, improving from 0.37 P/GP before December 5 to 0.85 after, while Tkachuk scored 12 and 37 in 40, improving by 0.10 P/GP.
Of course, some things go beyond the stat sheet. Tkachuk had a memorable season for many reasons, not all of them related to scoring. Much like his dad and brother, Matthew Tkachuk plays a hard-nosed brand of hockey. Often, his style tends to annoy some people. “Some people” can be seen below:
And, of course, who could forget this ridiculous Halloween trick-shot treat?
Tkachuk scored a goal and an assist in six playoff games before suffering a concussion in Game 2 against the Stars that ended his season.
Compared to last season
It was a year of disappointments for the Flames in many respects. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, and David Rittich all saw their numbers suffer in comparison to their 2018–19 output.
But Tkachuk took another step forward in 2019–20. He showed once again that he is an elite driver of play at both ends of the ice. He’s a pain in the ass to play against, but he’s also becoming much better at staying within the boundaries and causing other teams to recklessly lash out at him.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 5, 2020
In theory, going from 77 points one year to 61 points the next could be seen as a regression. For one, obviously, Tkachuk played 11 fewer games this year, so, really, he went from 0.96 P/GP to 0.88 P/GP. But he also factored in on 29.0% of the Flames’ goals this year (leading the team), up from 26.6% last year.
What about next season?
Tkachuk has two years left on a contract that pays him $7 million per season. That’s a bargain for a player who offers as much as he does. He’s a good bet to lead the Flames in scoring again next year so long as he remains healthy. After suffering a concussion in the playoffs against Dallas, Tkachuk’s health will surely be on the Flames’ radar this summer—head injuries are nothing to mess with.
But, assuming he’s back at his best next year, Tkachuk will almost assuredly continue being a player who helps the Flames everywhere on the ice and who can go toe-to-toe with every other agitator in the league. He’ll probably remain tied to Mikael Backlund’s hip, with Andrew Mangiapane remaining as the third cog on that line. It was one of the most dominant trios in the league this year and there’s little reason to see that changing, unless Backlund begins to decline more rapidly than expected.
In short, expectations are high. But Tkachuk is more than capable of reaching those heights.