Let’s face it, June 24th 2016 changed three franchises with one draft pick. That draft had three Pacific Division teams picking 4,5 & 6 with the chance to make a franchise altering pick. Austin Matthews and Patrick Laine went #1 and #2 to no one’s surprise. They were followed by Pierre-Luc Dubois at #3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not much of a shocker there either.
This set up the Oilers, Canucks and Flames to battle it out for the three best players left on the board at their draft position. Spoiler: Edmonton and Vancouver goofed while Calgary and the Coyotes (Clayton Keller at #7) benefited greatly.
As I watched covering this draft I was extremely nervous about Edmonton picking in the #4 slot. We, at M&G, had been banging the drum furiously for the Flames to pick Matthew Tkachuk. We did our research, watched the grainy prospect videos, looked at the stats and came to the one and only conclusion: Matthew Tkachuk was the guy. So, you could understand why, as the clock ticked on Edmonton’s pick, we were nervous. The Oilers had just finished up their 7th straight losing season, going 31-43-8. Connor McDavid had a very solid rookie campaign, beginning his ascension to NHL stardom. When you look at their top guns coming out of that season they had McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. That’s a pretty good foundation to build on (even though Hall was gone after 2015-16), but how does the dynamic of the division change if the Oilers make the right call and take Tkachuk? Well, no need to worry there. The pick came in: Edmonton selects........Jesse Puljujarvi. Whew, dodged a bullet there.
Next up were the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver was coming off a 31-38-16 season, good for 6th in the Pacific and the Sedin Twins were getting long in the tooth, Both were 35 at season’s end and the only exciting piece was on the roster was Bo Horvat. Tkacuk would have been an incredible add for Vancouver, so again, nervousness was at an all time high as the Canucks were about to make their pick. And with the 5th pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks select.......defenceman Olli Juolevi.
Now, once the fear of losing Matthew Tkachuk wore off that feeling turned to: OMFG! Did Edmonton AND Vancouver just let Matthew Tkachuk fall to the Flames at #6? Is this really happening? Now, the Flames still had to do the right thing and pull the trigger on Tkachuk and I can image Brad Treliving setting the floor on fire as he ran to hand in the Flames pick. Yes, they did the proper thing and selected Tkachuk with the #6 pick and set in motion some amazing results and “friendships” along the way.
It’s easy to look back after the draft and say “this team should have done this,” but in this case both the Oilers and Canucks did the Flames a favour by passing on Matthew Tkachuk when they both had him right there for the taking. Tkachuk has really changed the dynamic in the Pacific Division and Western Conference. He’s become a fantastic scorer and sees the ice so well. He’s a leader on the team. He’s become the ultimate pest, the West’s version of Brad Marchand. Fans hate him. Players hate him. Media members hate him. And all of it is AWESOME.
Think of what a pain it would have been to go into Edmonton to face McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins AND Matthew Tkachuk. Or The Sedin Twins, Bo Horvat and Tkachuk in Vancouver? Instead, Edmonton and Vancouver have to see Tkachuk at least four times a season and that’s not counting playoffs and preseason. Matthew Tkachuk’s “edgy” play has made him public enemy #1 in Edmonton after his bouts with Zack Kassian this past season. Think the damage doesn’t extend beyond just those two cities? Talk to LA and Drew Doughty about Matthew Tkachuk.
The passing of a potential, and now NHL Star, has shifted the dynamic in the Pacific Division and as Flames fans we couldn’t be happier. In his four seasons in the NHL Matthew Tkachuk has been an All Star (which was GOLD in it’s own right watching him play with members of the Oilers and Kings), played in 293 games, scored 94 goals, has 141 assists, racked up 302 PIM (105 in his rookie season) and become an absolute machine at drawing penalties and watching the world burn as he does it. All while chewing on that mouthpiece and flashing that wonderful (annoying if you aren’t a Flames fan) smirk.
How have the other two fared? Olli Juolevi has yet to make it to Vancouver. He was 18 when he was drafted so it makes sense he wasn’t thrown right into the fire. But at age 22 he has yet to see the ice in the NHL. In his first full AHL season last year he had 2 goals and 23 assists and was a -8 with the Utica Comets.
Jesse Puljujarvi has played three partial seasons with Edmonton, parts of three seasons with the Bakersfield Condors (AHL) and last season with Karpart (SM-Iiiga). He is no longer in the NHL, though the Oilers still own his rights while he plays overseas. He’s amassed only 139 games at the NHL level and has 17 goals and 20 assists. Compare that to Tkachuk’s 48 points in 76 games during his rookie season alone.
Face it Vancouver and Edmonton: you fudged up. And I know, you’ll say “we don’t want a player like Tkachuk on our team. He plays on the edge. He’s dirty. He’s cheap.” You’re lying to yourself. If you could buy a time machine on eBay and go back in time and re-draft those picks you’d splurge on that device in a heart beat. Both franchise’s lack of vision and bumbling allowed the Flames to get a player that immediately sets the tone at game time, will be their future captain and will be a fantastic member of the Flames for years to come. You both can hate him, that’s fine. But hate your organizations more because you passed on Matthew Tkachuk and took a player who hasn’t set foot in the NHL and one who’s left the NHL. Bravo Vancouver and Edmonton. Calgary thanks you.