Ah, the penalty box. The place where you get to sit and reflect as a player after you’ve been caught breaking the rules of hockey. The Flames lead the NHL in trips to the “sin bin” with 749 minutes this season and no Flame player has spent more time there than young Matthew Tkachuk. But you might be surprised at how much time he ISN’T spending there as of late.
While the rest of the league is probably disappointed with Matthew Tkachuk’s lack of knuckleheadery lately, the Flames have to be ecstatic. The Flames rookie earned a reputation as a borderline “dirty” player early in the season due to his play going “right to the edge or sometimes beyond.” Honestly I think the Flames rookie was just trying to make his mark as a 19 year old and show that he was willing going to go to the rough places on the ice to get things done. And he did. There were a few incidents early in the season where the league reviewed his play and fortunately for the Flames nothing came of it. It was probably a hard line for the Flames to toe because you don’t want to coach the aggressive nature out of a player, but at the same time he has to be smart. It appears the Flames patience has paid off because, while Tkachuk is 5th in the NHL in PIM, his game has really settled down.
Tkachuk hasn’t taken a penalty since Febraury 21st, a hooking call against the Nashville Predators in the Flames 6-5 OT win. Since February 1st, Tkachuk also has 12 points versus his 2 PIM, which is an indicator that his game is settling down. Now, some of those numbers are a bit skewed due to the fact he picked up 18 minutes in the box in a Flames 5-3 loss to the Flyers and 14 minutes in a 7-3 loss to the Oilers, but PIM are PIM.
Tkachuk has an astounding 42 points on the season so far, which places him 4th on the team behind only Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Not bad for an 19 year old kid. He’s also tops on the Flames in PIM with 94, well ahead of Deryk Engelland who sits in second place at 66 PIM. On the other side of the coin, for a while this season Tkachuk was also tops in drawing penalties. So he’s getting the job done by getting himself positioned in front of the net, getting in the scrum and getting the opposition to react and lately, he’s backing off. Tkachuk has avoided getting involved in the nonsense he creates.
Mathew Tkachuk has clearly made an impact as a rookie, arguably more than anyone could have imagined when the Flames plucked him with 6th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. No one could have imagined that he’d be up and skating with the Flames top line, getting big time minutes against other teams best players. He’s scoring, passing and drawing the ire of the rest of the league, which is exactly what the Flames wanted from their 19 year old rookie. The bonus is Tkachuk appears to have found that balance where he’s generating offence, but he’s calmed the other side of his game which found him in the box so much at the start of the season. Chalk it up to experience, playing on a top line or just the general maturation process, but if you told the Flames that Matthew Tkachuk would only collect 2 PIM in 17 games after the start he had, they’d be more than thrilled.