Matthew Tkachuk’s rookie impact

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 12:58 am by Pat Steinberg

Earlier this month I made a case for Mikael Backlund to be in the Selke Trophy conversation with the year he’s had so far. 

In recent weeks, there’s been another Calgary Flames forward getting some buzz for an end of season award. What about Matthew Tkachuk for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year? While guessing how voters might think it is a fool’s errand, I can tell you Tkachuk has impacted his team as much as any rookie has so far this season.

This article is less about making a case for Tkachuk to win the Calder and more just illustrating how impactful he’s been in his first NHL season. For Tkachuk to produce like he has in the situations he’s been put in is quite remarkable and makes him one of the more effective forwards in the league, regardless of age or experience. Let’s take a look at how he stacks up.

On the Flames

Where would the Flames be without Tkachuk this season? To be frank, they’d be without one of their most effective, productive, and consistent forwards, and thus, probably worse off. Used mainly on a line with Backlund and Michael Frolik, Tkachuk has been buried defensively while matched up against top end opposition on a regular basis. Illustrated below is how much Tkachuk has thrived relative to the rest of the team.

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It would be perfectly understandable for Tkachuk’s scoring to suffer taking on the responsibility he’s being asked to, but that hasn’t been the case. With nine goals and 31 points, Tkachuk sits tied for third on the team in scoring behind only Backlund and Dougie Hamilton. When you dig a little deeper into Tkachuk’s production, it becomes even more impressive.

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Per 60 minutes of even strength hockey, Tkachuk is Calgary’s most productive point producer. Yes, he’s getting the Backlund Bump and that definitely helps, but to discount the work Tkachuk has done would be unfair. After doing the research for this piece, it became even more clear just how worse off the Flames would be without Tkachuk in the fold this season.

League-wide

While Tkachuk’s work relative to the rest of his non-rookie teammates is impressive, equally as sparkling is his work in comparison to his fledgling peers. Typically when evaluating and ranking rookies, many look at pure counting numbers before going deeper into context. Below are the top 10 rookie scorers this season.

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Seeing Tkachuk fifth in rookie scoring might not jump off the page for a voter in Toronto or Pittsburgh, but as we’ve already highlighted, his role on the Flames is pretty unique for a rookie. Of this season’s rookie class, no one else is taking on the type of defensive responsibility Tkachuk is on a nightly basis and it’s not really close.

To illustrate that, I took the four rookies ahead of Tkachuk in scoring and compared their possession, usage, and scoring metrics to his. In looking at the results below, I feel the difficulty of Tkachuk’s minutes even the scales a little bit on the scoring side.

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Tkachuk is on another level on the possession side of things. In fact, his 57.5% shot rate ranks him ninth overall in the NHL period. And yet, Tkachuk’s scoring metrics aren’t that far off from his higher scoring rookie peers. 

Conclusion

We don’t know how much more productive Tkachuk would be with less defensively slanted ice time. Nor do we know how guys like Matthews or Laine would do if they were shouldered with the responsibility Tkachuk deals with each and every night. But what I think was important to illustrate here is how Tkachuk deserves to be in the conversation of most impactful rookies in the league this season.

A guy like Matthews or Laine will likely win the Calder Trophy, and that’s fine. The goal of this piece was not to suggest he should. But you can’t tell me from watching Tkachuk play this season and then digesting the numbers above he’s not impacting his team as much as any other rookie in the league. He’s just doing it a little differently.