Photo Credit: Sergei Belski – USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks never had serious interest in taking Matthew Tkachuk with the fifth overall selection in last year’s draft. It was a two-horse race between Pierre-Luc Dubois and Olli Juolevi. When all was said and done, fate forced their hand, and they plucked the Finnish blue liner with their first pick.
For some, that was an egregious misstep. Tkachuk’s counting stats were in line with what we’d expect from a first overall selection and he’d played a starring role on the CHL’s top line with the London Knights. What’s not to like?
I counted myself among those less convinced, though. Whereas the final consolidated 2016 Draft rankings had Tkachuk as the fourth best player available, I had him tenth on my board. Tkachuk, taken sixth overall by the Calgary Flames, has six goals and is playing on the Flames first line. These are early returns in a small sample, but I think we’re at a point where I have to take the proverbial ‘L’ on this one.
To try and learn from this experience and find out where my own analysis fell short, I’ve reached out to Shane Malloy of Hockey Prospect Radio to fill in the gaps where my admittedly qualitative-slanted analysis fell short.
With the limited resources at my disposal (time, experience and access) I struggled to separate Tkachuk’s contributions from that of his line. Rather, I had a difficult time placing his role in that line’s success in the proper context. It would hardly be a knock to suggest a 17-year-old wasn’t the driving factor on a line with Marner and Dvorak, but it was useful context to frame his production.
Wherein the problem lies is the extent to which I let that context cloud my view of Tkachuk. “The polarization was based on unfounded and unsubstantiated assumptions” Malloy insisted. “Every circumstance with each player comes with its own unique set of variables, and unless that context is properly evaluated, it can lead to incomplete conclusions.”
“Firstly, watching the player live is critical regardless of what statistics he produces. Then understanding the how, what and where of the contributions of a player who happens to play with other skilled players that have an elite level of hockey sense is a good first step. If the player in question can create time and space opportunities for himself and his teammates with his skill set, then that should be enough evidence to support the production level.”
It wasn’t just that Tkachuk played on that line, though. As Ryan Biech pointed out in advance of last draft, a large percentage of Tkachuk’s points were secondary assists. Based on what we know at the NHL level, secondary assists are generally considered noise in the bigger picture of a player’s production. They’re not terribly repeatable and often attribute credit where credit is not due.
To Malloy’s credit, he wasn’t undone by that qualitative caveat to Tkachuk’s production. “I had no concern about secondary assists.” Malloy posits “the name given to primary and secondary assists gives an automatic bias of importance that’s not accurate. This is another reason to watch live games, as the play development and who deserves credit on goals could be a player who doesn’t [even] receive any points.
Unfortunately, I’m in Vancouver, many thousands of miles away from the Ontario Hockey League. Seeing Tkachuk live just wasn’t an option. Well, it mostly wasn’t. “The main problem is that you did not see him play live games except at the Top Prospect Game.” Malloy added.
“I had Tkachuk fifth overall, and the reason I put him there besides the elite hockey sense, puck skills, work ethic and character was the fact he played a power forward style. In the NHL, power forwards of his skill set and potential are rare commodities and have greater value as an asset.”
Before I let Malloy go, I wanted to ask the question on the tip of every Canucks’ fans tongue. Did the Canucks make the right pick? I tend to think so, but I wanted to hear where Malloy, an experienced scout in the industry, stood on that hot-topic issue.
“I don’t think the Canucks made the wrong decision” Malloy suggests. “I mentioned on Draft day that the Canucks should, and would draft Olli Juolevi. Each team’s circumstances are different, however, drafting a potential first pair defenceman is worth its weight in gold.”
Time will tell if the Canucks were right to pass on the prolific heir to Keith Tkachuk’s NHL reign. They’re happy with the player they took, and I tend to think they should be. They couldn’t have gone wrong with Tkachuk, though. That much is becoming increasingly clear with each passing day.