Matthew Tkachuk is the villain we need right now. Not if you’re a Calgary Flames fan, of course. In that case, you’re probably incredibly stoked to have a teenager on your team who is already one of the best possession players in the NHL, puts up offense and plays with a mean, mean edge.
For the rest of the league? You’re gonna be buying your Hater-ade in Costco sizes.
Tkachuk was everywhere in Calgary’s loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Last time the teams met, he elbowed star Kings defenseman Drew Doughty in the face, garnering a two-game suspension in the process. I am in no way defending that infraction.
But instead of hiding from the big, bad Kings or keeping his head down like a rookie from days past, Tkachuk doubled down. He was chirping with Los Angeles enforcer Kyle Clifford during warm-ups. He tried to drop the gloves with Jake Muzzin on his first shift. He did drop the gloves with tough blueliner Brayden McNabb. And he hit Doughty every chance he had:
The kid is mixing things up. He’s the perfect example of the guy you want on your team but hate when he’s on the other side. And he’s just getting started. Tkachuk is still in his first NHL season and with linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik signed for next season as well, the trio’s chemistry will only get better (and right now it’s pretty great).
For Calgary, this is all fantastic news. Tkachuk and Backlund are top-five scorers on the team, with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan – part of Calgary’s other top line – holding down the first two slots. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is fourth right now.
That’s a great distribution of wealth for the squad and with the exception of the 27-year-old Backlund, all those players are under 24.
But frankly, I just love having another skilled pot-stirrer making a name for himself early. He has already incurred the wrath of the Kings, but with Edmonton good again, what does Tkachuk mean for the Battle of Alberta from here on out? What if he pops off at Ryan Getzlaf or Ryan Kesler in Anaheim? What about the big boys in San Jose? The fact he could agitate a team all night but still have the game-winner on the scoresheet is what makes Tkachuk so intriguing. This ain’t Matt Cooke here – this is a player we can take seriously.
I hope Tkachuk continues to be who he has been so far. He’s not afraid to use the press to stir things up, as he did when he clapped back at Doughty for calling him a dirty player. And when Tkachuk fights, or inspires fights, it’s organic. We know the staged fight is near death and the role of the enforcer is almost gone, but Tkachuk’s hard-nosed, edgy game is where fighting will live in the NHL, at least in the short-term future.
Another fun note? Keith Tkachuk has more than one elite son and Matthew’s younger brother, Brady, doesn’t sound too much different from his elder sibling.
“Brady is fun to watch,” said one scout. “He’s a Tkachuk. Super-competitive, big-time player down low and around the net. He’s gonna score a lot of greasy goals.”
Brady currently plays for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and is eligible for the NHL draft in 2018. I don’t know if it would be funnier for Calgary or Edmonton to draft him, but I love the possibilities.
And I already love what Matthew Tkachuk has brought to the NHL.