Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk: Building Block for the Future

In the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators chose Brady Tkachuk as the team’s first pick, and the fourth overall pick of the draft. It was a wise choice – in his two seasons in the NHL, Tkachuk has proven to be the kind of player a team could build a future around.

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During 2018-19, Tkachuk had an impressive rookie year and ended the season with 22 goals and 23 assists for 45 points in 71 games. That put him second in NHL rookie scoring to the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson, who scored 28 goals and 38 assists in 71 games and took home the Calder Trophy.

What Makes Tkachuk So Special?

However, it isn’t Tkachuk’s scoring that makes him such a prize. He takes after his father, Keith, who was a poster child for how a power forward should be defined. And, son Brady follows in dad’s heralded footprints. The young Tkachuk has proven he’s willing to get his hands dirty and isn’t afraid to visit the penalty box if he needs to. He’s a hard-nosed young player who dishes out the hits and takes no prisoners. He plays a physical brand of hockey.

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s no doubt that the now 20-year-old Tkachuk will eventually become an NHL star as he becomes more experienced. And, because of the Senators rebuild, he’ll get lots of ice time – even if he struggles with consistency. Although I’m looking far ahead, I’m hoping the Senators will figure out how to keep him in the organization. Unlike a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Senators have a frustrating habit of trading away its best talent when it comes time to sign them to higher contracts.

Tkachuk Begins the 2019-20 Season Where He Left Off

Tkachuk had a great rookie season, and it didn’t take long to follow-up in 2019-20. In fact, his opening-night goal was the NHL’s first goal of the season and came just 25 seconds into the opener. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound left-winger had started where he’s left off and, in the process, proved to Senators’ fans that his 44 points as a teenager last season was just the beginning.

Related: Brady Tkachuk Scores Overtime Winner as Senators Edge Canadiens 2-1

Tkachuk followed up that opening-night goal by scoring his team’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers in the second game of the season. Although two goals in two games was a promising start to a sophomore season, sadly it seems as if his scoring numbers might be hampered by his team’s current lack of offense. Although the Senators are doing better than many expected, there’s little doubt the team is destined to have a really difficult season.

Scoring Can Be Feast or Famine as a Young Player on a Rebuilding Team

On Oct. 27, Tkachuk scored a goal and two assists (and also had six hits) as he led his team to a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. That game showed the kind of player the young Tkachuk will likely become. He’s an offensive threat who plays with a physical edge that sets the tone for his team. The win against the Sharks was game No. 11 of the season, and his totals showed that he had almost as many hits (40 in total) as shots on goal (42 in total).

Brady Tkachuk Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, that game also reminds fans that he must become a more consistent scorer. He entered that game having been pointless in his six previous games. That changed when, on Nov. 4, he scored a goal and an assist in the Senators’ 6-2 win over the Rangers. He had scored two goals in his first two 2019-20 games, then he engaged in feast or famine – good games with spaces of no scoring at all.

Obviously, being on a rebuilding roster limits any player’s ability to score. Currently, for example, the Senators are dead last in the NHL in power-play goals with only 16 in 45 games. In contrast, the Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks lead the NHL with 41 power-play goals. That’s a huge difference and shows how the Senators’ lack of scoring impacts its stars.

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One can only guess that Tkachuk would have much higher offensive numbers on another team. The upside of playing on a rebuilding team is that you have lots of ice time to iron out mistakes and learn the game. The downside is that your own good play might not be rewarded on the scoresheet. Still, if Tkachuk can pick up his pace just a bit, there’s an outside chance he might be able to hit 30 goals this season. As I noted, he had 22 goals as a rookie last season.

Tkachuk Plays Hard – Regardless of any Scoresheet Outcomes

On Dec. 4, Tkachuk had the kind of game that defines him. Although he had eight shots, he didn’t convert one for a goal. But he also had six hits in that game (a 5-2 loss to the Canucks), which pushed him over a milestone. He became the first NHL player to top both 100 shots (105) on goal and 100 (101) hits for the season. Those numbers represent how Tkachuk defines his game.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After a solid rookie season, Tkachuk has pushed the physical aspect to his game to a higher level. He plays the game with such power that, although the Senators are far from an offensive powerhouse and he doesn’t have much help offensively, his play highlights why many Senators fans believe he might just be the building block for wherever this franchise is headed.

Tkachuk is young and his game lacks consistency. That’s to be expected. After two quick goals on the season, he then went on a scoring slump that lasted five games. That’s too common and something he needs to work on. However, regardless of his lack of scoring success, he’s still playing hard in other aspects of his game – especially the physical aspect.

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As I write this post, Tkachuk is limping along mired in a scoring slump, with only a single goal to show for his last seven games. Still, he at least has a chance to match last year’s 45-point effort. However, he will likely set career highs in hits and shots on goal. He’s a feisty player with both the talent and the drive to lead him through this wilderness.

What’s Tkachuk’s Potential?

At the end of the 2018-19 season, the NHL announced its All-Rookie Team. The three Calder Trophy finalists were included (goaltender Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres, and forward Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks). However, three other rookies made that team – defenseman Miro Heiskanen (Dallas Stars), forward Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay Lightning), and, of course, Tkachuk.

Brady Tkachuk Senators
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Senators are rebuilding. However, Tkachuk is one building block the team shouldn’t soon move. In fact, some contend that the Senators are Tkachuk’s team now, even if he’s only 20 years old.

Looking at the list of 2018-19 rookies listed above, it will be interesting to see how this rookie class grades out over the next decade. Here’s hoping the Senators remain pleased they chose Tkachuk.