Matthew Tkachuk (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Matthew Tkachuk didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of USA’s Natoinal Junior Evaluation Camp, but the national team and the Calgary Flames expected that to happen as Tkachuk looks to rest up before competing for a full-time NHL gig this coming season.
Matthew Tkachuk’s absence from Team USA’s National Junior Evaluation Camp may have raised some eyebrows at first, but the 18-year-old winger is a lock to make the team regardless of his participation. That is, if he’s even given the opportunity to go to the tournament by the Calgary Flames.
Tkachuk, who was selected sixth-overall in the June draft, was one of the most highly touted prospects come draft time and is coming off of nearly a year straight of on-ice action. From evaluation camp the year prior to the end of the Memorial Cup, Tkachuk played 86 games last season. That’s not including scrimmages at evaluation camps, practices in the OHL or any other exhibition contests. With that in mind, Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy told the Calgary Sun’s Kristen Odland that Tkachuk’s absence from the on-ice portion was expected.
“It was kind of the plan,” Conroy told Odland. “We just want to make sure he’s 100 percent ready to go. He could have easily played but even USA Hockey said, ‘We know what he’s all about and that’s it.’ He looks great, we’ve seen him but this is just to give him a bit of a breather.”
And the breather will be important, Conroy said. Tkachuk is only just coming back from an ankle sprain that he battled through during the OHL season and he’s had very few breaks over the past calendar year. That’s not to mention that when Calgary’s training camp rolls around, Tkachuk doesn’t seem keen on having the Flames entertain the option of sending him back to junior.
“You talk to (Tkachuk) right now and his mindset is to make the (Flames),” Conroy told Odland. “And that’s what we’ve always said, just like with (Sean) Monahan. He came in and played great and then he was on the team. He took it out of our hands. That is (Tkachuk’s) mindset and that was (Monahan’s) mindset too.”
If Tkachuk’s 2015-16 OHL campaign is any indication, he should have a fairly solid shot at making the Flames out of camp, too.
In 57 games with a dominant London Knights team, Tkachuk scored 30 goals and 107 points, and he added another four goals and 11 points in seven games at the World Junior Championship. Tkachuk followed that up by going off in the post-season, scoring 20 goals and 40 points in 18 playoff games, followed up by another five goals and eights points at the Memorial Cup. As if that’s not enough, Tkachuk notched the Memorial Cup-winning goal.
Tkachuk also brings an element the Flames are looking for in a burly power forward whose not afraid to mix it up and score ugly goals. Already listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Tkachuk’s frame could make him an instant impact player in front of the net on the power play or as a winger paired alongside Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, which is sure to be a coveted spot in the Flames’ lineup.
So while he may not have skated at the evaluation camp, Tkachuk is a lock to make Team USA come December. Barring injury, the only reason he won’t be there is if he’s earned himself a full-time spot with the Flames next season, and that shouldn’t be ruled out.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.