On Saturday, Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk appeared on TSN’s OverDrive show to discuss, among other things, the Battle of Alberta. According to Tkachuk, he believed at the draft that he was going to end up on the other side of this battle.
Here’s the story in Tkachuk’s words…
During the draft, on the draft floor, it was kind of a weird moment where some people at the Edmonton table, you could ask them they would probably deny it, but they’re kind of staring me down and kind of giving me some smiles. The only people that saw it were me and my mom so we’re like ‘alright, we’re going to Edmonton.’
Then Pierre-Luc Dubois went third-overall and the phone started to ring like crazy at the Edmonton table and they threw the jersey under the table and it looked like they stripped off a name and gave it to Puljujarvi with the next pick.
Tkachuk’s memory certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.
Coming into the 2016 draft, there seemed to be a very clear top three. Auston Matthews would be the first-overall pick as the Leafs wanted their franchise centre and the two Finns, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, who had been brilliant at the World Juniors, would go second and third.
After that, it was up in the air. But Tkachuk, fresh off of a 107-point season with the London Knights, seemed to be the leader of that everyone else pack after the big three. I remember a mock draft coming out days before the draft suggesting Tkachuk would be Edmonton’s guy at four.
So, as planned, the Leafs took Matthews with the first pick and Winnipeg grabbed Laine right after. Then, it was the Blue Jackets’ turn to pick. When Jarmo Kekalainen went up to the podium and called Dubois’ name, there was an audible gasp in the arena.
The Oilers then took their chance to pounce on Puljujarvi, Tkachuk would slide past Vancouver and end up as a member of the Flames, and the rest is history.
It’s interesting to think what would have happened if Kekalainen had just made the predictable move and gone with Puljujarvi with the third pick. Would Tkachuk had become an Oiler? Would be a beloved pest here rather than our most hated rival? Would Puljujarvi had blossomed elsewhere?
You really can’t fault Edmonton for going with Puljujarvi when he fell into their lap with the fourth pick. He had just put up one of the best World Junior performances of all-time, scoring 17 points in seven games en route to a gold medal victory, and looked like he was going to be a star. But the fact that a Finnish general manager passed him over did seem a little ominous.