Tkachuk on first hearing of Panthers trade: 'I was the happiest person ever'

Matthew Tkachuk describes all the reasons why the Panthers were at the top of his trade list, and why he hopes to finish the rest of his NHL career with this organization.

Wearing the Florida Panthers logo on his chest for the first time on Monday, Matthew Tkachuk couldn’t help but wear a wide grin, too, as his new club unveiled its newly-signed star winger.

“Very surreal. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, if I’m being honest with you,” Tkachuk told the media from FLA Live Arena Monday, in his first press conference as a Panther. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable waking up here. You just get that little bit more excitement knowing where you are.”

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 24-year-old winger. Just this past April, the Scottsdale native clinched his first 100-point campaign in his sixth NHL season, before his Calgary Flames embarked on a wild two-round playoff run. Then came July, and the news that linemate Johnny Gaudreau would be leaving Calgary to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Soon after that news broke, word came that Tkachuk was moving on from Calgary, too.

After working with Flames GM Brad Treliving to try to facilitate a deal that could benefit both he and the organization that drafted him into the big leagues, Tkachuk heard the news of his next destination not too long before the rest of the hockey world did.

“I got a call from my uncle (Craig Oster), who’s the best agent in the world — he called me Friday in the afternoon. … He said, ‘We might have something done with Florida.’ I was the happiest person ever,” Tkachuk said, recapping how the deal materialized late last week. “He said, 'Don’t tell anybody.' I went to my parents hotel room, told them. And then [I was] just thinking about everything, logistics — I said, ‘We can’t say anything, don’t want to jinx it.’”

Later that night, while the Tkachuks were out for dinner, the new contract came through and No. 19 officially became a Panther.

Speaking with Sportsnet’s Eric Francis on Saturday, Tkachuk shed light on how difficult the decision to leave Calgary was, on the memories and the friends he’s leaving behind. On Monday, he elaborated on why the allure of Florida pulled him away from the club he began his NHL career with.

“When I made the list [of teams], first and foremost it was winning,” Tkachuk said. “It was not just winning now but it was winning in the future. … All the guys are from my age to 28, 29, or the majority are. So that was first and foremost a very attractive part for me, is the win-now mode and the win-in-the-future. Number two is lifestyle — I’m 24 and I had six unbelievable years in Calgary and it was the best place for me to be at that time. Looking ahead, I signed for eight years, but in my mind I’m here for eight-plus. So however many that’ll be, I want to be here for the rest of my career. And number three, I think they have a bunch of elite players that I can play with and be surrounded by.

“I want to be here. Like, this wasn’t me just getting traded and me having no say — I chose this. I really want this to work, and I’m just excited for the possibility of winning here in South Florida.”

While much of Tkachuk’s decision was tied to the fact that the Panthers have become one of the game’s most dangerous clubs — taking another step in 2021-22 with a dominant regular season that saw Florida claim the Presidents’ Trophy — there was also a bigger-picture reason for the move Stateside, the winger explained.

The chance to help the game continue to grow in South Florida.

“I was born in Arizona, grew up in St. Louis — both, at the time, weren’t the Minnesotas, Michigans, Bostons, not the huge hockey markets. And from what I’ve seen, even since I came to play Florida in 2016, my rookie year, it’s grown a lot,” Tkachuk said. “I think one of the things I can help [is], you know, on the ice, I have a different personality, the way I play. I bring a certain swagger that I think will really help this team. And off-ice, I have the same personality. So I think that I’m excited for the chance to get to grow the game down here.

“I hope that, in a few years, nobody on the team can walk outside without somebody saying something to them, kind of like it is in some of the other places around the league. I think that winning definitely helps that, so we’ll take care of it on the ice, and I’m sure it’s going to attract the next wave of Florida hockey players. That’s a really big goal of mine as well.”

For the Panthers faithful, the excitement of Tkachuk’s arrival is tempered by the disappointment of losing a franchise icon in Jonathan Huberdeau, along with top-pairing defender MacKenzie Weegar — two key pieces that played a massive role in helping the team reach the heights it did last season.

But while comparisons will surely be made between the team's new star winger and the one who previously made waves on Aleksander Barkov's wing, Tkachuk made clear he isn’t coming to Florida to be the new Huberdeau.

“I don’t feel it,” he said of the pressure of replacing a player with a legacy like Huberdeau’s in Florida. “I’m a different type of player. Another guy that was traded in that [deal] was Weegar, who’s an unbelievable player as well — I bring different things than what those guys bring, I think.

“I don’t feel pressure. I’m here to win. Personal stuff, throw it out the door, I don’t care. I’m here to be the last team standing. That’s it. … I don’t care about the personal stuff. I’m not comparing myself to anybody.”

If his new fans needed a first taste of what Tkachuk figures to bring to his new squad, he offered a glimpse when asked about the Panthers’ cross-state rival, the one coming off three straight Cup Final appearances. While he was diplomatic in his praise for the perennial contender Tampa Bay Lightning, the newest Panther made sure to fire an early shot, too, drawing on his half-decade of Battle of Alberta experience to stir the pot.

“I hate Edmonton," Tkachuk said, "but I hate Tampa more now.”

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