Following last night’s loss to the Washington Capitals, Matthew Tkachuk’s games played number rose to 8. As many of you know, this means he can play one more game this season before the Flames have to ultimately decide whether to keep him in the NHL or return him to the London Knights of the OHL.
Tkachuk has been under a wide array of speculation of late, with some believing he’ll be sent to the minors while others believe he’s a lock to stay in the NHL. My opinion leans more towards the latter, as frankly, there’s almost no reason for him to be sent back to junior.
First of all, Tkachuk has given the Flames the opportunity to run three strong forward lines (when Gully makes the right decision) after he was put with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. That line is ideal for him as he continues to learn and adjust to the NHL game as he plays alongside two experienced forwards who both have strong defensive and offensive capabilities. It gives Tkachuk more freedom to establish his game in the NHL as a power forward while also being able to rely on two defensively sound forwards if and when mistakes ultimately come.
It also makes the Flames a stronger lineup overall as each of the top three lines have a high capability to score while also grooming a lot of the future youth in the process. With the addition of the 4th line playing some solid hockey this season, Tkachuk brings the depth to the lineup that the Flames have always seemed to lack as well as some more “truculence”.
So far through eight games played, Tkachuk has 1 goals and 3 assists to go along with 8 PIM and a +3. Therefore, Tkachuk is averaging 0.5 points per game in this young season, which may seem small but considering that Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett finished their rookie seasons at 0.45 and 0.47 points per game respectively, it’s impressive. Of course, these numbers will change as more games are played this season.
Monahan had 6 goals and 3 assists in his first eight NHL games, while Sam Bennett had only 1 assist in the first eight games of 2015-16. They show two completely different ends of the spectrum to start their careers but they finished with almost identical numbers at the end of their rookie seasons. Tkachuk falls right in middle of the two, and it’ll be interesting to see how it changes throughout the year if he stays.
Tkachuk also leads the Flames with a 55.38 CF% (Corsi) so far this season. To compare, the best regular Flame last season was Mikael Backlund with a CF% of 52.26.
While sending Tkachuk back down to junior isn’t terrible, there really isn’t much sense in doing so. Tkachuk absolutely obliterated the CHL in his first season last year when he scored 147 points in 75 games including the Memorial Cup winning goal. That number would’ve likely been even higher had he not missed 11 regular season games for the Knights. Sending Tkachuk back now, a year older and with NHL experience would likely leave him in a similar situation as last year. Is that really best for his development?
It’s a classic case of “big fish - small pond” vs “small fish - big pond” and it seems to make a lot more sense for Tkachuk to have a chance to grow in the large pond that is the NHL.
Tkachuk has one last chance to prove himself tomorrow night against the Blackhawks before it’s decision time for the Flames.
Calgary heads on a west coast road trip after Tuesday’s game meaning they could easily call up a forward from Stockton if necessary. But it really shouldn’t be.