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Gulutzan: Tkachuk could stick in Calgary

The 18-year-old forward has impressed the Flames coach

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- To hear coach Glen Gulutzan tell it, odds are rookie Matthew Tkachuk could start the season with the Calgary Flames. 
 
But all bets are off after that. 
 
"He's played pretty well from start to finish," Gulutzan said. "I don't think it's out of the realm to say he's going to be here for Game 1 if things are status quo. 
 
"We'll just play from there.

"You guys know the magic number here. There's no harm in that, and we'll see where it goes."
 
No harm indeed. 
 
Not with Tkachuk turning a head or two in every step of the process. 
 
The 18-year-old London Knights standout made his presence felt at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, collecting a goal and a team-leading 22 minutes in penalties, at the prospects' tournament.
 
He's continued that momentum on into main camp, netting two goals in four games, and adding a shootout winner to his resume in Wednesday's 2-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes while shining with second-year centre Sam Bennett and veteran right wing Troy Brouwer.
 
"He's played every game like it's his last," Gulutzan said. "He's battled.
 
"He's been a very consistent guy. When I look at young guys in the league, that's the biggest challenge. You can sometimes see those attributes fly out in a top pick … 'ooooh the speed' or 'ooohh the shot' or 'ooohhh the strength,' but it's flashes. It's flashes until the light stays on.
 
"With Matty, what I've liked the most is it has been consistent. 
 
"Usually consistency is what young guys don't have."
 
Tkachuk's goal has been to consistently get better.
 
So far, so good.
 
"The goal is to get better every single day," he said after his shootout heroics at Scotiabank Saddledome. "If I'm fortunate enough to stay I just want to help this team win. Obviously, you want to stay. You want to be on this team. I just want to keep getting better every day. As long as I'm getting better every day there are no worries."

Video: Post-Game: Matthew Tkachuk
 
Needless to say, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft is doing all he can to call Calgary home. 
 
Even the homework. 
 
Tkachuk has turned to the No. 6 pick in 2013 for advice on how to play for the Flames as an 18-year-old.
 
"Earlier in camp, I had him over for lunch after one of the practices," said centre Sean Monahan, Calgary's first-round pick three years ago. "One of his first questions was, 'how did you make the team?' It's a tough question to answer. Things have to fall into place. You have to work hard. You have to earn it to be here. It can't be given. It's the NHL. It's a tough league to play in.
 
"I just told him to be who he is. What got him here is he's a skilled player. He put up great numbers in junior. The special thing for him is he understands the game. He gets it. He's taking a beating in front of the net to get those goals. He's 18. To see that already is pretty cool.
 
"It's pretty clear that he wants to be here. I've talked to him quite a bit. He's a good player and a good kid. He works hard. He's got two goals in the preseason and the shootout winner (Wednesday). It's good for him. He scores those goals in the dirty areas. He's there in the paint. That's what you have to do in this league to score. He gets that aspect of it. He's going to continue to work hard."
 
Tkachuk shouldn't get too comfortable just yet, though. 
 
Any stay depends on maintaining what he's already built. 
 
Easier said than done, and easier done in preseason. 
 
Can Tkachuk do it facing stiffer competition? 
 
"Even as we're talking, it's still an exhibition game (Wednesday), and if you look at Arizona's team … no (Connor) Murphy, no (Oliver) Ekman-Larsson, no (Alex) Goligoski ... it's still a partial American League defence there. It's not their top guys in the game," Gulutzan said.
 
"That'll change soon. That's why we're weighing our options here.
 
"When you're playing in the top two lines, you know you're getting the top-four D. That's where the game becomes different. Nobody's matching in pre-season. Everybody's rolling to take a look at their players. Every time Bennett, Brouwer, and Tkachuk … if that's how we start … come on the ice, you're not getting the third and fourth pair.
 
"You're getting (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook. You're getting (Drew) Doughty and (Jake) Muzzin. That's a different ballgame.
 
"That's why there's no decisions to be made. We'll just keep going here and see where he is at."

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