In his fourth NHL season, Matthew Tkachuk is a big part of the present and future for the Calgary Flames. When looking at the numbers, his influence early on is not unlike the early impact Jarome Iginla made with the Flames at the start of his illustrious career.
Iginla was captain of the Flames from 2003-04 to 2012-13 and led the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in his first year wearing the ‘C’. When he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the tail end of the 2012-13 season, he left big skates to fill and it was Mark Giordano who was tasked with leading the Flames onward. Although there were some reservations at first, ‘Gio’ has proven to be one of the most widely respected captains in the league. He is the eldest (and fittest) of the Flames and is coming off a season where he was the best defenseman in the NHL, winning the James Norris Trophy. At age 36, Giordano is nearing the home stretch of his career, which poses the question, who will assume the captaincy after ‘Gio’?
While Tkachuk is still young, with some maturing left to do as a player, he may be the leading candidate for becoming captain after Giordano. Like Iginla and Giordano, Tkachuk doesn’t cheat the game. He is a throwback player who works extremely hard and plays the game the right way. While he may be known as an agitator on the ice, he is a consummate professional with his teammates, the media and in his community. But does he have what it takes to be the next Flames captain?
Keeping Pace with a Legend
When comparing Tkachuk’s numbers (currently in his fourth season) to the numbers Iginla posted through his first four campaigns in Calgary, the similarities between the two are prevalent. Through his first four seasons (1996-00) Iginla appeared in 311 regular-season games, notching 91 goals and 105 assists for 196 points. Tkachuk has played 250 games so far, and with plenty of his fourth pro season remaining, has scored 81 goals and 113 assists for 194 points already. Both players have been effective power-play performers in the early stages of their careers, as well, with ‘Iggy’ getting the slight edge over ‘Chucky’ for power-play goals, 27 and 25, respectively.
Both Iginla and Tkachuk have a physical edge to their game, as well. Iginla was no stranger to dropping the mitts during his career, where Tkachuk’s style is less about fighting and more about agitating opponents. Despite his intense competitiveness and undeniable toughness displayed each game, Iginla had a fairly clean image and was widely respected throughout the league. Tkachuk, on the other hand, garnered a reputation early on as one of those ‘hated’ guys in the NHL, (just ask Drew Doughty).
While it is more a case of ‘love to play with him, hate to play against him’ it’s for this reason he has racked up almost double the penalty minutes compared to the former Flames captain. Tkachuk has 256 penalty minutes so far, while Iginla recorded 150 through his first four campaigns.
IGINLA VS TKACHUK (FIRST 4 NHL SEASONS)
|JAROME IGINLA (‘96-’00)||MATTHEW TKACHUK (‘15-’19)|
While Iginla played the bulk of his career in the same era as Tkachuk’s father, Keith, the junior Tkachuk had a chance to play against Iginla early on his career. In an interview with the Calgary Sun, he remembered the experience.
“I had the honor to play against him two years ago,” Tkachuk recalled. “I think he actually tried to fight me one game, that’s a pretty cool memory to have.”from ‘Iginla’s legend lives on with today’s Flames stars,’ Calgary Sun, 01/17/2019
All in the Family
Tkachuk was named to the Flames leadership group in 2018-19 when he was just 20 years old. He currently wears an ‘A’ in Calgary, alternating the role of alternate captain with Mikael Backlund. Being able to manage the added pressure and expectations that go along with wearing a letter, especially early on in a career, is a rare quality. It is a quality that seems to have been inherited, as he is not the only Tkachuk to have shown true leadership potential. His father was captain of the Winnipeg Jets, and later the Phoenix Coyotes, while also wearing an ‘A’ with the St. Louis Blues and U.S. Olympic teams. He began his career at 19 years old and was named captain in his second season (1992-93) with the Jets.
Even his younger brother, Brady, currently playing in his second season with the Ottawa Senators, wore the ‘C’ for Team USA in junior, as well. If the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, then it’s safe to assume that Matthew Tkachuk has a similar pedigree as his father and brother, to be a leader in the dressing room, on the ice, and in life in general.
Will He Stay in YYC?
Tkachuk became the highest-paid player in Flames history this past offseason when he signed a three-year extension worth $21 million. The negotiations dragged on but, in the end, the deal ensured the 30-goal scorer will be in Calgary until 2022-23. There were concerns by some about the term of the deal being rather short. With a young, emerging star, fans would have liked to see him locked up long-term. At the time of the signing, both Tkachuk and Flames general manager Brad Treliving were adamant that the short-term deal would be better in the immediate future for the team, helping retain the core group in Calgary. It was also impressed on the media and fans that Tkachuk wants to be in Calgary and he wants to win as a Flame.
Perhaps just ‘lip service’ for some listening in, but it’s worth noting that Tkachuk has always shown poise and candidness with the media, and provides a refreshingly transparent interview. He’s obviously confident. He’s got swagger that can’t be taught, only inherited, and with a few more seasons under the stewardship of Giordano, the potential for greatness exists.
Eventually, the Flames might be wise to officially prepare their prince to one day be king. It might take that kind of gesture and commitment from the organization to the player (and from the player to the organization) before we see a potential Iginla-like legacy reborn in Calgary. However, if the Flames hope to keep Tkachuk in Calgary long-term, the writing may be on the wall… and you can’t spell ‘Chucky’ without a ‘C’.