Flames’ Tkachuk Blossoming as NHL’s Most Valuable Agitator

The Calgary Flames once again showcased their remarkable come-from-behind abilities in a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers that guaranteed them of at least a .500 record on this current four-game road trip. The Flames’ latest triumph was spearheaded by Matthew Tkachuk, who continues to have a knack for producing timely goals this season.

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The feisty 21-year-old netted the game-tying goal late in the third period and later assisted on the game-winning marker by T.J. Brodie. Tkachuk’s heroics bailed out goaltender David Rittich, who appeared to be on the hook for the loss after a his puck-handling miscue led to the Flyers’ go-ahead goal. While contributing offensively, Tkachuk was also at his disruptive best as he was involved in a number of after-the-whistle scrums.

It was the type of performance that provided a further example as to how he has been able to blossom into the league’s most valuable super-pest. The well-known agitator is the guy every other team in the league hates to play against and opposition fans despise, but his teammates and Flames supporters are delighted to have him as one of their own.

Tkachuk Breakout Season Major Boost to Depth Scoring

While the top trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm has rightly been garnering rave reviews upon their emergence as one of the NHL’s best lines, Tkachuk’s contributions can’t be understated in examining the team’s resounding success.

With veteran James Neal struggling mightily in his first campaign in Calgary after being a high-priced free agent signing, Tkachuk’s offensive breakout is leading the charge when it comes to solidifying the club’s scoring depth. He’s already matched a career high for points in just 43 games with 49 points as the result of his 19 goals and 30 helpers.

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk
Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

While he continues to get his nose dirty thanks to his intensity and competitive fires, Tkachuk for the most part has stayed away from some of his past on-ice chaos that has led to suspension-related absences. The prime evidence of  how he’s become a true team leader may have been reflected in a Dec. 15 road engagement against the Minnesota Wild.

He fought Matt Dumba in the opening minute in response to a nasty hit the Wild defenseman had doled out to Tkachuk’s teammate Mikael Backlund in a previous contest that left Backlund with a concussion. Not only did Tkachuk answer the bell physically, but he also notched the game-winning marker in the 2-1 victory.

Tkachuk’s Productivity Has Him Poised to Cash In

Tkachuk is in the final year of his entry-level contract and will certainly be looking at a massive pay raise from the $925,000 he’s making this season. His potential and value to the group was reflected in the club’s decision to name him an alternate captain. He has rewarded that faith in him by establishing himself as one of the Flames’ most productive, edgiest and effective two-way players.

The sixth overall pick from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft is continually working at honing his craft and the results speak for themselves. Tkachuk’s ability to notch goals by tipping point shots is seemingly without equal and his creativity from in-tight grabs your attention as he’s not afraid to try shooting or passing the puck between his legs in a bid to create scoring chances. If there’s a scramble around the net, there’s always a good chance that he is involved because of his no-fear approach in finding his way to those tough areas of the ice.

Matthew Tkachuk, Mikko Koskinen
Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

A good comparable as to what he brings on a nightly basis would be Boston Bruins villain Brad Marchand. Marchand is a top-line performer on the traditional Eastern Conference powerhouse who has a Stanley Cup ring and multiple All-Star Game appearances on his resume. This season, Tkachuk’s point total is higher than that of the Bruins’ mega-pest. Tkachuk plays nearly 18 minutes per game, is 18.3 percent and remains combative with 41 penalty minutes on the season. The Flames forward is also a master at drawing penalties in large part to his inherent ability to get under the skin of his opponents.

While the brilliance of Gaudreau’s flash-and-dash has been a familiar sight during many Flames contests this season, Tkachuk’s more workmanlike performances have proven to be just as valuable in what has been an excellent season so far. It was hoped that he would play an increased role in what has shaped up to be a rebound season in 2018-19 for the organization and Tkachuk has definitely delivered. The Flames are not only leading the Pacific Division but find themselves at the top of the Western Conference.

Tkachuk a Major Clutch Performer in 2018-19

Tkachuk provides an honest effort on a nightly basis and has proven to be a major catalyst with key goals that have allowed the Flames to secure several valuable points at critical points of the season. It was his goal late in the third period to tie the Washington Capitals that gave Calgary at least a point in a 4-3 Oct. 27 shootout loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions. That result was a much-needed confidence boost for a Flames squad that was humiliated 9-1 on home ice by the Pittsburgh Penguins in their previous outing.

They went on a four-game win streak after that, including a 2-1 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres that was made possible by a Tkachuk equalizer late in the third period. The highly-clutch performer is also a dependable special teams performer with eight power play goals on the season.

Calgary Flames leftwing Matthew Tkachuk
ST. LOUIS, MO. – DECEMBER 16: Calgary Flames leftwing Matthew Tkachuk (19) during a NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues on December 16, 2018, at Enterprise Center, St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While nobody on the Flames roster has been allowed to surpass the $6.75 million cap hit of captain Mark Giordano, Tkachuk is on the verge of cashing in big-time. He’s going to be a major centrepiece of the organization for many years to come and has been able to establish himself as a highly-valuable performer on this entry-level contract. He may still have the bad boy reputation but he’s about much more than that. His offensive exploits this season clearly show that he has been able to find the perfect balance of skill and agitation in taking his game to an elite level.