There is clearly an unwritten rule amongst Calgary Flames management that says no one is allowed to talk about Matthew Tkachuk without referring to The Plan.
Of course, no one is at liberty to reveal what The Plan is.
But safe to say, it’s being implemented.
Tkachuk himself is aware there’s a blueprint of sorts, though no one has shared it with him.
“I have no idea what The Plan is either,” shrugged the Flames’ prized 18-year-old.
“The reason why I didn’t play in two games (Saturday vs. the Blues and Monday vs. the Blackhawks) is they said they had a plan for me. I’m not going to argue with them. They’re smart at what they do, so I trust them.”
Trust is all he’s got to go on these days as Tkachuk awaits word on whether his nine-game NHL tryout of sorts will be extended, or if he’ll be sent back to the OHL’s London Knights.
Currently living with Flames assistant captain Sean Monahan until he’s told otherwise, Tkachuk has toiled away on the left wing trying to prove he’s ready to mix it up with the big boys.
Unafraid to poke, slash, hack and hit anyone he comes across in the dirty areas of the NHL’s environs so far, Tkachuk’s prowess as a power forward mimics that of his father, Keith. His 48 goals and 97 assists in 65 games in London last year en route to being the overtime hero at the Memorial Cup led him to being drafted sixth overall last June.
He’s been impressive enough from the first day of rookie camp to force management to keep him around, watching his every move.
“There’s a plan for him but I tell you it’s written in pencil,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving, demonstrating just how on the fence he is.
“We’re not there yet. We talk about him daily in terms of how he’s coming. The great news is we’ve got a really, really good player. He’s exactly what we envisioned in terms of his hockey sense and ability.”
His body of work so far has fans in Calgary abuzz, scoring a beauty in his fourth NHL game and adding an assist in six outings.
He hasn’t hurt his club defensively and has done well to agitate and draw penalties — but has also taken a few questionable ones. That’s going to happen, given his pedigree and penchant for mucking.
Coach Glen Gulutzan likes his puck management, decision-making and attitude. As a coach, surely he’d love to have an asset like Tkachuk to work with all year.
“He’s handled every obstacle very well, even the emotional one in St. Louis,” said Gulutzan of Tkachuk’s first game in front of more than 100 friends and family members in his native St. Louis Wednesday, following two games in the press box.
“We’re just going day by day. We have a plan for Matthew [See? I told you]. We weren’t going to play him one of those games. We wanted to get him some workouts and some other work in.
“Ultimately the decision will be made by Matthew.”
In other words, his last three games with the Flames are huge in terms of being tipping points.
One of the biggest questions about Tkachuk seems to be whether his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame is ready to withstand a game built like his.
The sturdy winger is being ushered into the gym regularly to continue bulking up.
“I think he was really good yesterday and I think part of it was how he was managed,” said Treliving of the games off, a tactic that also buys the club a bit of time before having to make a decision on The Plan.
“He’s an 18-year-old kid. The ultimate is, ‘what’s the best thing for him and what’s best for the team?’” said Treliving.
“You can’t say after three games there’s the ‘A-ha Moment.’ It’s going to get deeper here. It’s still not a slam dunk this is 100 per cent the best for him. The best thing for any young player is to play.”
And he has, averaging 12 minutes and two shots a night, including some power-play spins.
On a team struggling to find line combinations and a winning formula, his outing in St. Louis was his best so far, playing alongside third-liners Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund. A positive sign, even though he’s spent the bulk of his time with the Flames on Sam Bennett’s second line.
“I felt really good – I think it was my best game from all aspects,” said Tkachuk, who stated at the draft he had no intention of returning to the Knights and was instead aimed squarely at making the Flames keep him.
“I was playing regular shifts and playing with two really good players in Fro and Backs, so it was easy for me.”
Trace his brief but brilliant young career, and it looks like it’s always come easy for Tkachuk.
It would seem deep down the Flames know they have to keep him, as this is where he already belongs.
He’s not out of place, he’s contributing more and more, he impacts most games with his feistiness and he’s always been a fast learner.
With an asset as important and talented as Tkachuk, the Flames want what’s best for him long-term. Surely that can’t be playing against the same boys he dominated last year in the OHL.
If he suits up for the Flames’ next three games, The Plan would have to be revealed midway through next week.
Then again, don’t be surprised if the Flames drag it out even longer than that to buy more time for The Plan to unfold.