Matthew Tkachuk watched from the sidelines last season as his Calgary Flames imploded and missed the playoffs with a late losing streak.
But now he says he’s healthy and ready to help the Flames return to the post-season.
“We need a great year,” Tkachuk said in an interview with NHL.com. “We have to have one. I mean, it’s time to really start dialing it in.
“It’s time to expect great things out of ourselves and out of our team. We should all have high hopes, high expectations.”
Tkachuk, 20, was on his way to a career year when his season abruptly ended on March 11 after a collision with New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal. He missed the final 12 games of the season and revealed at the team’s locker cleanout that he had suffered a concussion.
Still, in 68 games he had 24 goals and 25 assists, giving him 49 points, which was one more than in his rookie season. But the way the season ended meant it’s been an extra long summer for Tkachuk, so he can’t wait to get 2018-19 started.
“The summer’s been good but I had a little bit of a later start than I would’ve liked or had planned, because of what I went through at the end of last year,” he said. “I started gearing up in later May, started in on the training more, getting my base back.
“There’s no worse feeling than being out of it. So everything I’ve done this summer is to be as healthy as possible.”
The Flames only won three of those final 12 games Tkachuk missed and finished the season with 84 points, 11 behind Colorado for the second wild-card spot. Because of that late-season collapse, GM Brad Treliving has been aggressively reshaping much of his team this summer.
Out are head coach Glen Gulutzan, defenceman Dougie Hamilton, and forwards Micheal Ferland and Troy Brouwer. In their place, Treliving brought in forwards James Neal, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik, along with defenceman Noah Hanifin and new head coach Bill Peters.
With so many changes, Tkachuk says the pressure is now on the players to deliver results on the ice.
“These guys expect to win,” Tkachuk said. “Whether you signed on as a free agent or are here via trade, you’re coming to Calgary because you see the team we have and can envision success.
“I’m not speaking from experience, of course, but a guy like James Neal, I assume, is even hungrier to get back to a final, and finish the job this time, after the past two years. And he chose Calgary as potentially the place to do that. That excites me. To have a guy who’s been on hockey’s ultimate stage, you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Of course the pressure isn’t just on the new guys to deliver. Tkachuk and returning stars like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will still need to contribute offensively if the Flames are going to return to the playoffs.
The addition of Neal gives the Flames options on the left wing, the same position Tkachuk plays. Tkachuk says he’s open to any assignment and that he can’t focus on individual success, only what’s best for the team.
“If people are putting themselves ahead of the group this year, I don’t want that around. And I know nobody else does, either,” he said. “I know a lot of guys are sick about how the last couple years have gone. What are our goals as a team this year and what as an individual can you do to help achieve those goals (is the mission).
“That’s the only thing that matters.”