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Draft Combine Interview with Tkachuk

by Staff Writer / St. Louis Blues

BUFFALO -- Matthew Tkachuk realizes the odds of being selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 2016 NHL Draft is highly unlikely, barring a trade prior to the first round at First Niagara Center on June 24.

But having the opportunity to interview with the Blues, the team he rooted for as a child, on Wednesday at the NHL Scouting Combine was still an experience he'll never forget. St. Louis was one of 14 teams that scheduled an interview with Tkachuk, a forward with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League who is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the draft.

Tkachuk arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday, two days after his overtime goal gave London a 3-2 win against Rouyn-Noranda in the Memorial Cup championship.

The Blues have seven picks in the draft, but they choose 28th in the first round. Tkachuk is expected to be chosen somewhere in the top 10.

St. Louis gave NHL.com exclusive access to sit in on the interview with Tkachuk, whose U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame father Keith spent the final eight-plus seasons of his career with the Blues.

The conversation was entertaining and enlightening.

When Tkachuk entered the suite he shook hands with all eight scouts, including Bill Armstrong, the director of amateur scouting. Armstrong, who sat to Tkachuk's left, and Dan Ginnell, to his right, did much of the questioning.

After Tkachuk provided his family background and explained his successful transition to the OHL with the Knights, Armstrong asked the 6-foot-1, 200-pound left-handed shooter what he would need to do to reach the next step in his career.

"I just think it's explosiveness, that's the biggest thing," Tkachuk said. "I've always wanted to work on my first three steps and my explosiveness out of the gate. If there's a puck there, I'm going to get it."

Armstrong threw Tkachuk a bit of a curveball at that point when he offered that while Tkachuk's hockey sense is high end, his skating during the second half of most of his shifts might need to improve. Tkachuk agreed.

"I think you said it perfectly," he said. "When I get deeper into my shift, when trying to get back and up, it's a little more difficult."

Armstrong then asked Tkachuk which NHL player he would most compare himself with.

"For skating, I'd look at someone like Corey Perry, someone I've been compared to a lot," Tkachuk said.

Said Armstrong, "That's not a bad guy to be compared to."

"No, I'll take it, although it's unfair to him," Tkachuk said with a grin. "I've always liked James van Riemsdyk and Jamie Benn as well. So if I can snag a little something from all three I'd be pretty happy."

Not long after, Armstrong asked Tkachuk his feelings on what it would be like to play for the Blues.

Tkachuk's skills were refined on the rinks in St. Louis, where he played six seasons with the AAA Blues program. He accompanied his father to most of the Blues' practices and grew up in a household full of hockey players, including David Backes and Lee Stempniak, because Keith and his wife, Chantal, served as billets for many of St. Louis' young players when they entered the NHL.

"Playing for the Blues certainly wouldn't be awkward," Tkachuk said. "It would be awesome. I just want to play in the NHL as fast as I can. It doesn't matter where I'm drafted and how high I'm taken."

He was then asked about his work ethic in practice.

"I'm a driven kid; I know that, my parents know it and everybody who's close to me knows it," Tkachuk said. "In practice I'll always try and gain an edge. My mindset in the first period against Guelph [of the OHL] on a Friday night in the regular season is the same mindset I had in the overtime in the Memorial Cup final."

Said Armstrong, "And what was your thinking entering that overtime in the Memorial Cup final?"

"I was thinking what should I do if I score, and also that I only had one shot in the game to that point," Tkachuk said. "So if I wanted to score I'd have to put more pucks to the net."

Tkachuk scored at 7:49 of overtime; it was his third shot on goal during OT.

The Blues scouting staff began wrapping up the interview at that point, but not before inquiring about the best advice Keith Tkachuk had provided to his son in the early stages of his career.

"He says the same two things to me before every game: Compete and make a difference," Tkachuk said.

Armstrong asked Tkachuk if he had witnessed a lot of Keith's goals.

"No, not really," Tkachuk said. "If stuff comes up in highlights I'll watch, but I don't go out of my way; I saw a lot of stuff in person.

"They don't have a lot of video of his 50-goal years," he added with a laugh. "It's pretty hard on the eyes [since many were tough deflections in the slot]."

Tkachuk provided details about a sprained ankle he sustained prior to the Memorial Cup and how it shouldn't keep him down for very long. He also told the staff that he was invited, along with a few other top 2016 draft prospects, to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins in San Jose on June 6.

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