Matthew Tkachuk. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
Despite his family ties to the NCAA game, 2016 draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk has committed to the OHL's London Knights. Why?
It's never too early to dream about the 2016 draft. Not even before the 2015 draft arrives.
We know this year belongs to Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. The 2016 draft class belongs to Auston Matthews, a phenom who missed 2015 eligibility by two days and rewrote the U.S. National Team Development Program record book this year.
Matthews' NTDP wingers are highly regarded prospects as well. The right winger, Jack Roslovic, projects to go in the first few rounds this June, ranked 37th in our freshly published Draft Preview. The left winger's name should ring a bell: Matthew Tkachuk. He is indeed the son of longtime NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk. Matthew might not be as mean as his dad, but Matthew has a similar hulking frame and scoring touch. My colleague Ryan Kennedy, our resident prospect guru, is constantly in touch with scouts and rates Tkachuk as a potential top-10 pick in 2016.
It's big news, then, that Tkachuk officially committed to the OHL's London Knights Friday. Not only can he shift the OHL's power balance, but the decision was a bit of a shock considering how many ties Tkachuk had to the U.S. college system.
The Knights continue to do an amazing job recruiting players away from the U.S. And it's hard to blame kids for wanting to come to London. Year in and year out, the Knights produce top-end NHL talents, so many of whom end up taken in the first round and so many of whom reach the NHL right away or at least within a few years. Canadians Rick Nash and Corey Perry came through London. Nazem Kadri and John Tavares finished their junior careers there. The Knights churned out Max Domi, Bo Horvat and Nikita Zadorov in the 2013 draft class. Offensive stud Mitch Marner looks like a borderline top-five pick this June. And, more relevant to Tkachuk, U.S. NTDP products like Patrick Kane flourished as London Knights.
London drafted Tkachuk's rights in 2013, and maybe getting him to commit ups their odds of their 2014 pick, Max Jones, coming north of the border as well.
The timing couldn't be better for a London team that will almost certainly lose Domi to the NHL next season, and perhaps Marner too if the team that drafts him decides it wants his offense right away, tiny frame be damned. Tkachuk could take Domi's spot on Christian Dvorak's wing.
And what type of player are the Knights getting? Well, just as Domi isn't the same player as his dad, Matthew Tkachuk isn't a Keith clone. Keith was a mean customer whose primary business was goal scoring. Matthew can snipe – he ripped it up for 38 goals and 96 points with the NTDP this season – and he's not afraid to mix it up physically, but he's heralded for his brain above all else.
A scout's take on Tkachuk, as reported by my pal Mr. Kennedy: "Complete two-way guy, competes for pucks, dangerous in tight. Makes nice touch passes, and he's smart. Makes players around him better."
Plenty for London to get excited about. And considering Erie will lose Connor McDavid and, in all likelihood, Dylan Strome next season, the Knights could re-emerge as Midwest Division favorites if Tkachuk and Jones can replace Domi and Marner's production. And if Marner stays another year, look out.
Tkachuk's decision to play major junior wasn't a sure thing by any means, even after he de-committed from Notre Dame. He has strong family connections to Massachusetts schools. His dad was a Boston University Terrier. Tom Fitzgerald is his uncle and his cousins include Ryan Fitzgerald and Kevin and Jimmy Hayes. It would've made perfect sense to see Tkachuk at a staple like Boston U or Boston College.
But alas, aside from (presumed) exceptions like Jack Eichel, going the college route means a longer wait for the NHL, and it appears Tkachuk wants to make the big-time sooner. The NCAA's loss is the OHL's gain.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin