Matthew Tkachuk gained drive, desire watching dad

Wednesday, 01.27.2016 / 3:00 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Keith Tkachuk would like to believe watching his son play the game he did for so many years would be a thrilling experience.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

"It's the most terrifying thing, because I worry and fear for him and I have no control over what he does," Tkachuk told NHL Live.

He can take pride in the fact his son, Matthew Tkachuk, has established his own identity as a hard-working left wing capable of holding his own in his first season for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. He has 16 goals, 70 points and a plus-25 rating in 37 games.

The younger Tkachuk, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, also has a pretty good idea what it's going to take to reach the next stage of his playing career.

"If you don't give 100 percent every shift at the next level, you will be out of the League as quickly as you got there," Matthew told "My mindset is, every NHL player gives 110 percent and every really good NHL player gives it their all every shift. One of the things I've been working on this year is making sure that I'm first on every puck and winning every battle. It's the little things that will hopefully separate me at the next level."

So far, so good.

Tkachuk will be the highest-ranked skater participating in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Pacific Coliseum on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports). Tkachuk will captain Team Bobby Orr. He is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

"Matthew is acting more cooler than the wife and I, but credit to him, he's worked really hard and wants to continue to get better," Keith Tkachuk said. "He's smart enough to realize that the higher you go up, the harder it is to score goals. He manages to get around the net a lot more and he's certainly more skilled than I ever was."

Growing up in a household full of hockey players played a big part in Matthew's desire to one day excel in the sport. When he played for the St. Louis Blues, Keith Tkachuk and his wife, Chantal, usually served as billets for many of the young players entering the League, including David Backes, Philip McRae and Lee Stempniak.

"I played a lot of sports with him; we jumped on the trampoline, threw the football and played mini-sticks in the basement," Stempniak said. "I just remember both of Keith's boys [Matthew and Brady] loving to play hockey. Keith and Chantal did a great job raising their three kids [including daughter Taryn]. They are all so respectful."

Brady Tkachuk, who plays for USA Hockey's Under-17 National Team Development Program, will be eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. He will attend Boston University in 2017-18.

Stempniak invited the Tkachuks to his wedding, and the families get together at least once each summer.

"It's amazing to think Matthew is the top-ranked North American player in this draft class," Stempniak said. "It's scary because I still remember him being a little boy going to middle school, and now he's on the verge of becoming a first-round pick in the NHL."

It doesn't surprise Stempniak. He remembers Matthew showing a determination to win at anything they played. He feels a lot of that desire comes from hanging around his dad during his heyday in the NHL.

The elder Tkachuk served as a captain or alternate captain in the NHL for 15 of his 18 seasons in the League, making his NHL debut with the Winnipeg Jets as a 19-year-old and being named captain in his second full season in 1993-94. He also was a captain or an alternate on four occasions while representing the United States in international competition.

Keith Tkachuk was selected No. 19 by the Jets in the 1990 NHL Draft.

"Matt got to see what his dad went through," Stempniak said. "No one played harder than Keith. No one got in front of the net as often and got to the dirty areas and paid a price to score goals. You would always see him come home, beat up and bruised, and realize it's not all glory.

"He went through a lot to score those goals, and that probably gave Matt and Brady an appreciation with how hard their dad had to work to score. They were able to see, firsthand, the grind that dad went through on a daily basis; things that maybe other players aren't fortunate to see or understand."

What did Matthew take away from seeing dad return home bruised and battered on most nights?

"His leadership and competitiveness, for sure," he said. "He would have no problem whacking a guy, sticking up for a teammate or just being vocal. Throughout his career, it seemed there was never a time he didn't have a letter on his jersey.

"I know [having a letter on the jersey] doesn't mean everything, but he was just a great leader."

It's the type of player Matthew Tkachuk yearns to be.

"He's still young and there are things he needs to work on skating wise, but that took a while for me too," Keith Tkachuk said. "Matthew is a student, he wants to learn and get better."

Of course, it wouldn't hurt if Matthew would just wait a few hours before calling dad for that critical advice.

"He had just played against Kitchener and just after midnight our phone rings and it's Matthew explaining to me how he feels he could have done this better or that better," Keith Tkachuk said. "Heck, I'm going to go to bed. Matthew wants more feedback on his play than I ever wanted, but can we just talk about this in the morning and not midnight?

"That's just one example of how much he wants to learn and improve."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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