Here’s why the Flames are burning a year on Matthew Tkachuk

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:27 am by christian tiberi

Matthew Tkachuk will play his 10th NHL game tonight, burning off the first year of his ELC, meaning his contract will expire a year earlier than it needs to. With four points in nine games, it’s a bold move for the team. 

Tkachuk, from a points perspective, isn’t producing enough to say he is a vital contributor to this team. Since he is not providing any additional wins through his points contribution, it would be good from a contract perspective to send him to London and bring up Hunter Shinkaruk and have him produce at a similar rate for no ELC loss.

On the other hand, Tkachuk is simply playing out of his mind, regardless of whether or not it shows up on the scoresheet. By looking at the possession numbers, you can certainly make the argument that Tkachuk playing in the NHL is the right spot. In fact among one of the strongest rookie classes in recent NHL memory, he is one of the best possession players.

Here’s a list of some of the most hyped rookie forwards for this NHL season and their possession stats.

All data is 5v5 from naturalstattrick.com

CF% OZS% CFrel% GFrel%
Matthew Tkachuk 57.80 24.14 8.55 19.25
Auston Matthews 55.25 64.94 4.61 2.04
Patrick Laine 46.69 53.01 -5.05 -8.33
Jesse Puljujarvi 54.05 60.00 3.96 -6.25
Kyle Connor 39.66 55.32 -12.04 -15.00
Jimmy Vesey 53.57 56.58 5.24 16.48
Travis Konecny 53.47 53.13 1.47 2.79
William Nylander 56.89 65.29 6.82 7.14
Mitch Marner 48.59 54.84 -4.79 4.51

Let’s marvel at those numbers. Tkachuk has the highest CF%, in terms of raw and relative, and the highest rel GF%. This is all amazing considering he also has the worst zone starts, 28.87% worse than the next closest player. In time, those rel stats should come down (providing half of the team gets in gear) but his results thus far have been incredibly promising. The closest player to him on that list is Jimmy Vesey, someone four and a half years older than Tkachuk.

Those numbers are almost unheard of for a rookie. No one sticks their rookies in the defensive zone. It’s simply not a good way to build confidence if you’re getting stomped on and scored on. However, this is how Gulutzan has been using Tkachuk and he’s been succeeding.

However, it is fair to point out that Tkachuk has also predominately been playing with some of Calgary’s best centres. So far in his young career, Tkachuk has spent at least thirty minutes with Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund, more so the latter than the former. Playing with Backlund also means playing with Michael Frolik, two players who have a reputation of carrying so-so players to great results. Could that be the case with Tkachuk?

Short answer: no

tkachuk tha godddd

If you quickly browse that list, you’ll notice that Tkachuk can hold his own, no matter who he ends up with. There are very few combinations where he isn’t successful. He isn’t an anchor and he isn’t being carried by anyone else; he’s a driver. The lowest number in that second-to-last column that is below 54.29%, and that’s nuts.

Let’s focus in on Backlund and Frolik, his two main partners. In at least 36 minutes together, they are producing a ~60CF%. This is impressive considering that their zone starts (which was the very, very last column in this table, for whatever reason) is 15.15% at the max. Putting him with Backlund and Frolik was not an attempt to kickstart Tkachuk, it’s where he belongs.

For additional perspective, let’s look at his time with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer. That line and offensive zone time was the plan to start the season, with Tkachuk receiving 40.91 OZS% at the worst with Brouwer and Bennett. Again, this line was one of the better lines, putting together a CF% of at least 53.70%. Away from Bennett and Brouwer, Tkachuk still exceeds whereas 93 and 36 are shades of alright away from Tkachuk.

Yes, it’s still early in the season, but Matthew Tkachuk has been one of the best forwards on the Flames. He is very far ahead of the curve relative to his teammates and his rookie peers, and it’s no real surprise why the team chose to burn a year on his contract. Now imagine when he starts scoring.