Even with the high bar set by being the sixth overall pick in one of the most loaded drafts in recent memory, Matthew Tkachuk has exceeded every expectation. He’s a fan favourite and potentially the Flames’ most complete player.

2017-18 season summary

Tkachuk was mostly in the same role as he was last year: 3M line, taking on the bigs, trusted with defensive zone starts, kicking ass, taking names, etcetera, etcetera. It took 50 games, but Tkachuk eventually found himself on the powerplay, where he picked up 10 goals and seven assists. He and Dougie Hamilton turned out to be a great one-two punch of slapshots and tipped pucks, making us all wonder why it took 50 games for that to happen.
Games Played
5v5 CF%
5v5 CF% rel
Among forwards, Tkachuk finished first in 5v5 CF% and first in 5v5 CFrel%. This is despite having the seventh worst zone starts. Taking rates into account, he finished second (behind Michael Frolik) in CF/60 (70.07) and first in CA/60 (52.23). The CA/60 stat is for the whole team, not just the forwards.
Tkachuk finished third in team scoring, which is impressive given that the team, and his line in particular, was snakebitten when it came to scoring. An injury late in the season prevented him from hitting the 50-point mark. That’s not overly significant, but it would’ve helped close the gap between him and the Monahan-Gaudreau combo. His scoring numbers look a bit pedestrian, but Tkachuk is quite clearly one of the driving gears of the Flames. If that isn’t apparent now, it should be soon.
Overall, Tkachuk was probably the Flames’ most impactful and all-around best performer. His two-way play got better. He found an offensive touch despite a low PDO. He drew penalties, 34 at 5v5, which was second in the league to Tom Wilson. The kid just did everything. He is 20 years old, by the way.
Otherwise, the only other negatives of Tkachuk’s season were two suspensions for using his stick incorrectly. The first was against the Red Wings, when he gave Luke Witkowski a goodbye tap after a melee during a blowout game. The second was spearing against Toronto, when he gave Matt Martin a jab while on the bench. Although perhaps the punishment (especially against the Wings) was a little harsh, it’s probably not great to have three suspensions and a reputation heading forward.

Compared to last season

Like he did last year, Tkachuk led the forwards in CF% and CF% rel. Although by slightly smaller margins in the latter category (indicating that the entire team became better at possession last season), he took about a 2% jump in CF%, which is ludicrous. That was good for third across the entire NHL. Perhaps some of that is due to more offensive usage. Tkachuk’s OZS% went up about 10%, partially because the fourth line was given some more defensive responsibility, and partially because of Tkachuk’s emergence as an actual offensive force.
Another impressive development is Tkachuk’s ability to draw penalties without taking more of them. It’s a personal theory that I have no evidence of, but I think that he devoted a decent amount of effort in his rookie year finding the line (among players and refs) and figuring out how close he can come without crossing it. He has seemingly found the balance point where he can agitate (or just simply outplay) opponents enough to get them a trip to the sin bin, but remain calm enough so that he doesn’t join them.
One of the categories where Tkachuk did see a major step backwards was assists, although that has largely to do with his two linemates seeing career worst shooting percentage numbers. In a normal year, he would likely surpass those numbers.
There were few things he did wrong as a rookie, but Tkachuk somehow managed to drastically improve on his few weaknesses.

What about next season?

Given his growth from year one to year two, it’s scary to imagine where Tkachuk can go from year two to year three. It’s seemingly likely that he can break the 70-point barrier while becoming more of pain to play against.
We can only hope that Bill Peters and his eventually-to-be-named coaching staff can further develop and emphasize these skills. There’s no way that Tkachuk should be moved from the powerplay unless they somehow manage to wrangle up three better scoring wingers (they won’t). Perhaps he’ll actually see some PK time, which could boost an already stingy shorthanded unit.
Linemates will be another question. The 3M line is one of hockey’s best, but if the Flames can’t find an actual top six RW this offseason, does Tkachuk fill that void for the next season? It may be an inevitability. His two-way play is already borderline (if not, certainly) elite and the offence is starting to come around. He could be a handy internal solution to one of the organization’s biggest issues, although adding another elite player to the fold is a more palatable scenario.
Regardless, next season should be a treat, as it always is with Tkachuk. Let’s just hope they sign an extension before he puts up ridiculous numbers.

#5 – Mark Giordano
#7 – TJ Brodie
#8 – Chris Stewart
#10 – Kris Versteeg
#11 – Mikael Backlund
#13 – Johnny Gaudreau
#15 – Tanner Glass
#18 – Matt Stajan