Matthew Tkachuk rising to challenge of making Flames’ roster

Matthew Tkachuk scored in the shootout and the Calgary Flames edged the Arizona Coyotes.

Matthew Tkachuk had his ‘Welcome to Calgary’ moment Wednesday night with a standing ovation that punctuated his dramatic shootout winner against the Arizona Coyotes.

On Thursday, he essentially got his ‘Welcome to the Big Leagues.’

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm to say that he’s going to be here for Game 1 if things are status quo,” said Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan of the team’s sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft.

“And we’ll play from there. You guys know the magic number so there’s no harm in that and we’ll see where it goes.”

No, they didn’t tell him to unpack his bags, get an apartment or buy a house.

He’s simply passed the first major test as a Flame – a challenge that stood as one of the biggest question marks heading into training camp.

General manager Brad Treliving still has the final say on the opening day roster that will hit the ice on Oct. 12, but it’s essentially unanimous that Keith’s kid deserves a look-see as part of what will likely be a nine-game regular-season tryout.

Ever since the Flames lucked into drafting Tkachuk — their primary target at June’s draft — the club has vowed to take it slow with the 18-yer-old Scottsdale, AZ. native.

The Flames have been quick to point out they’d happily send the winger back to the London Knights to take a stab at becoming a Memorial Cup hero once again if he needed more development. (Tkachuk registered 20 goals and 20 assists in 18 playoff games with the Knights in 2015-16, and even scored the overtime winner to hoist the trophy).

But as soon as he was put on a line with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer, he’s done nothing but impress.

In addition to scoring two power-play goals in four games, including Calgary’s only regulation goal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win, he’s also showed a tremendous ability to use his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame much like his father did as one of the game’s premier power forwards through the 1990s.

That’s one thing Gulutzan and the gang in Calgary will be watching closely once line-matching begins and Tkachuk is facing top NHL pairings.

“I worry about strength because he plays in those gutsy areas,” said Gulutzan, who has been impressed by Tkachuk’s moxie throughout the pre-season — including several endearing spats against Edmonton Oilers prospects during rookie camp.

“This is still pre-season so once the season starts he’s getting [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook and [Drew] Doughty and [Jake] Muzzin and that’s a different ball game.”

With that in mind, Gulutzan flew Tkachuk to Vancouver for the final pre-season game Thursday with an eye on possibly playing him just to see how he’d fare against Vancouver’s A-team.

“Right now we don’t know if he played a real stinker or a great one it would make a big difference,” said Gulutzan.
“But it’s safe to say regardless of how we finish tonight if he plays he’ll still be here tomorrow practicing – we’ll take it day by day. He’s played pretty well from start to finish.

“I don’t think he’s been our best guy but he’s been a very consistent guy and when I look at young guys in the league that’s their biggest challenge,” Gulutzan continued. “You can sometimes see those attribute like speed, strength or the shot pop out but then it’s flashes until the light stays on.”

Much like how he quickly assimilated in London where he scored 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games as an OHL rookie, Tkachuk is clearly comfortable in an NHL dressing room — an environment in which he was essentially raised.

Bennett raved about Tkachuk’s work ethic and professionalism and Shane Doan, who first met Tkachuk mere weeks after he was born, said his approach is first class.

“Just a genuinely good, competitive, rough-and-tumble kinda kid,” said Doan, who had a good chat with Tkachuk at the Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

Sean Monahan said he had Tkachuk over for lunch after practice early in camp, where the youngster wasted no time picking his brain to find out how he could make the NHL club right away as Monahan did.

“I told him to be who he is – he’s obviously a skilled player who put up great numbers in junior,” said Monahan, who scored six goals in eight pre-season games to earn his NHL spot as an 18-year-old.

“I think the special thing about him is he understands the game and he’s taking a beating to get those goals and that’s nice to see. He’s 18 and to see that already is pretty cool. His compete level is great. It’s pretty clear he wants to be here.”

Tkachuk clearly soaked up every word from Monahan.

“He said he was put in a good spot and kept working and proving he deserved to be there every day,” Tkachuk said of his conversations with Monahan.

“My mindset is every day is a new day and you have to keep impressing them every day,” he said. “I’m in a great spot – my linemates make it very easy on me.”

From here it only gets harder.

And that’s exactly what Tkachuk has wanted all along.

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