There’s a whole lot to like about Matthew Tkachuk, son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk. He’s big, he’s tough, he’s got a great shot and impressive vision and playmaking ability. As the fifth ranked prospect on our list, he falls right into the wheelhouse of some Canadian teams, making the locals pay even closer attention.
But Tkachuk hasn’t been without his detractors, and while you certainly can’t claim that he isn’t incredibly talented, there is a case to be made that his numbers have been inflated a bit because of who he spent the 2015-16 season playing with. Read on to find out more.
Age: 18 (December 11th, 1997)
Birthplace: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Frame: 6′ 1″, 194 lbs
Draft Year Team: London Knights
Accomplishments/Awards: U17 WHC Gold Medal (2013-14); U18 WJC Gold Medal (2014-15); CHL Memorial Cup Champion, CHL Top Prospects Game, OHL Champion, OHL First All-Star Team, U20 WJC Bronze Medal (2015-16)
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A multi-dimensional energy winger that plays a pro-style, adaptive game. Well-versed as a guy who can consistently put up points, but also as an agitator who plays with a little bit of bite and nastiness. Skates with excellent balance and speed, outclassing many in his age range. No lack of offensive instincts and knows how to score in many different ways. Confidence in his abilities and playing to the extent of his capabilities strengthens his work ethic and creativity. All-in-all, a unique and effective forward who defines his own limits and seeks to exceed them, along with all on-ice expectations.
Keith Tkachuk‘s son has been a standout for years at multiple levels. He was great last season in the USHL and with the USNTDP, was a top player at the world under-18 championship, and a top player this season in the OHL. He is a multi-dimensional scoring winger. You talk to any scout about Tkachuk, they come back raving about his hockey IQ. He has great vision and offensive creativity, and makes quick, precise decisions with the puck. He can dangle defensemen, and create offense out of nothing, but Tkachuk is also a relentless worker. He wins more than his fair share of battles, and is his father’s son on some days, being a pain in the rear for many defenders and goalies.
His speed isn’t at the same level as his hands and vision. He’s not slow, but he’s certainly not a top-end speedster, either. Tkachuk can also get caught cheating a little defensively, an area of his game that he’ll need to tighten up.
In this forceful, rigid yet graceful sport, there are few who possess a diverse resume of skills necessary to display a consistent level of dominance practically on a shift-to-shift basis. Terms like “the complete package” are often used to describe these rare birds, and as cliche as it sounds, it certainly is the best way to sum up players like Matt Tkachuk. Born and reared in the St. Louis area’s under-appreciated hockey environment, Tkachuk, in reality, could have trained anywhere when you consider the mentorship he received right in his own home. And while his father Keith — close to a decade removed from an all-star NHL career — has left a huge imprint in both the looks and skills department, we view Matthew as a bit more patient and decisive with both his strength and his playmaking ability. The kid doesn’t have a glaring weakness, and while some may point to skating, he has a long and powerful enough stride to win the occasional footrace. And even the roadrunner types who can catch up to his up-the-ice attacks are generally limitless in preventing him from doing what he wants or needs to do. Tkachuk has a very heavy and accurate shot which can change speeds and confuse goalies, but his penchant for delivering scoring-chance set-ups at the very last moment is yet another reason why he’ll be so coveted come Draft Day. Throw in leadership qualities and a desire to make opponents pay the price physically, and you have the makings of the best pure power forward prospect available for the 2016 draft.
From the Hockey News Draft Preview:
The only, and we mean only, knock on Tkachuk is his skating. And even that is not enough to deter most scouts from getting very excited about the son of former NHL 50-goal man Keith Tkachuk.
The elder Tkachuk was more of a pure sniper (538 goals in 1,201 games), and while the son can score, he excels more at setting up teammates. Both are big and imposing around the net, but the younger Tkachuk doesn’t quite have the nasty bite his father had. “The sky is the limit with this guy,” said one scout. “Everyone tries to poke holes in him, but all he’s done is answer all those critics and then some. He’s going to be a hell of an NHL player.”
Playing on one of the most dominant lines in major junior with Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak in London, Tkachuk has proved he can complement elite players, not hold them back. “If you were teaching Hockey 101, you would look at this kid and say, ‘This is what you want from your left winger,'” said another scout. “He’s strong on his skates, he battles for pucks and he has a soft spot around the net.”
The son of former All-Star Keith Tkachuk, Matthew resembles his father in many ways. But he is not made entirely in his father’s image, as has been suggested by some. For one, he doesn’t have the same snarl that his father had – though he’s no shrinking violet. But, to be fair, Keith Tkachuk at 17 didn’t have that same snarl yet either, so there’s still time for Matthew to get a bit nastier. Additionally, though he can score plenty of goals, he doesn’t have the same deadly shot that his father made a living with. Instead, he’s got better vision and passing ability.
The suggestion that he’s a good playmaker is not simply a reaction to his sky-high assist totals – his ability in that regard can be verified visually. He does have a bit of an abnormally high rate of secondary assists, but even if we take those away, he still has one of the most impressive totals of primary points in the draft. As Ryan Biech mentioned earlier this week, a very impressive table built by Brian Fogarty at Hockey Prophets breaks down all of Tkachuk’s secondary assists this season and takes a closer look at which goals he was instrumental on and which were just statistical noise.
The biggest knock on Tkachuk this season has been who he plays with: he spent the year on a line with elite Toronto prospect Mitch Marner and Arizona prospect (and former OHL scoring champion) Christian Dvorak, two players who have absolutely no problem piling up a mountain of points. The worry is, how much of his success is due to his linemates?
The answer of course is: a lot. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re going to play with two dominant players, it should come as no surprise that they play a large part in your success. The question becomes whether or not a player can continue to be successful without those linemates – a question that is tricky to answer when the line is rarely, if ever, separated.
The line of Tkachuk, Marner, and Dvorak played together almost exclusively this season, making it different to compare Tkachuk’s numbers with and without them. All the same, I built a WOWY table for Tkachuk (with the help of Canucks Army programmer Dylan Kirkby, who scraped the game sheet data).
The chart demonstrates that Tkachuk’s numbers were clearly better with Marner and Dvorak than without them – but how could they not be? The second and third-to-last rows show a 5% drop in GF% when the line is missing just one of Marner and Dvorak, indicating that the presence of all three is important. The final line shows Tkachuk’s numbers when neither of the other two are on the ice. Compared to the rest of his stats, these look particularly bleak – yet even then he’s recording a goals-for percentage of over 60 per cent, which is fantastic, and is still better than about three quarters of the OHL, including high end prospects like Mike McLeod (58.6), Mikhail Sergachev (56.3), and Will Bitten (47.3). And of course the sample size in this context leaves plenty to be desired.
Speculating on how much of Tkachuk’s success is due to Marner and Dvorak is just that – speculation. It isn’t exactly fair to him to assume that they’re the source of his success, when he hasn’t gotten a legitimate opportunity to sink or swim on his own. Qualitative analysis of Tkachuk’s play suggests that he is still worthy of a top five pick, and we don’t have much else to go on at this point. Even if Tkachuk had help getting to his impressive point totals, we can’t really hold it against him without seeing a large body of work in other situations.
Tkachuk had elite level production in his draft season, and that makes analyzing his potential with the pGPS system a little tricky. His era adjusted points per game were the 99th percentile of the 8500 OHL players in the pGPS database. He had only one match using the standard similarity threshold of 95% (Andrew Cassels’ 151-point draft+1 OHL season in 1988). Just below that 95% are same very impressive names, including John Tavares, Corey Perry, Jason Allison and Jason Spezza, all with greater than 94% similarity to Tkachuk’s 2015-16 season. Other stars such as Steven Stamkos and Eric Lindross (remember that era adjustment is used) were also above 90% similarity.