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Tkachuk's play during rookie season has team - and his GM - excited for future

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

One story, to Brad Treliving, is the ultimate 'tell.'

The furor surrounding the 10-day-old Drew Doughty imbroglio was still very much on the boil back on March 29. 

Making Matthew Tkachuk about as popular amongst hockey-loving citizens of the City of the Angels as sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 between Sepulveda and Laurel Canyon boulevards.

The Flames were already in the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings already out.

"So we get into L.A,'' the Flames' GM recalled during his season-ending Q&A late Friday afternoon. "We'd clinched a playoff spot. And I talked to him about, you know 'Do you really need to go into L.A. …?'

"And I'm telling you, there's no way he was coming out of that game.

"He was pretty adamant.

"No way he was coming out.

"That just shows you the DNA of the kid."

No hiding. No retreat. No compromise. No surrender.

The Matthew Tkachuk Mantra.

On the lengthy list of compelling storylines to emerge from a 2016-15 season of revitalization down at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the 19-year-old millennial and his instantly-recognizable surname provided arguably the freshest and most compelling.

Armed with brass belying his years, the calm cunning of a safecracker, the precision skill of a diamond cutter and the puckish temperament of a willfully disruptive school kid, the sixth-overall pick of 2016 contributed 48 points and finished +14 through his rookie season, providing the perfect port-side foil for Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on his team's most consistent line.

Come playoff time, as stakes are ratcheted up, space on the ice reduced and level of intensity cranked off the dial, rookies - even the best ones - often find the going difficult to adapt to.

As did Tkachuk: Zero points and a minus-2 as the Anaheim Ducks beat Calgary in four games.

"It's frustrating,'' admitted Tkachuk on clean-out Friday. "I tried not to take as a big high or as a big low. You try to give everything you have but as much as you try sometimes it just doesn't go your way.

"Especially the first three games in playoffs I feel like I had a lot more to give. When I started feeling it more in Game 4 you're down 2-0 with 10 minutes left in the first and it's too late.

"I gotta take some positives from the year but it obviously hurts, the way it ended.

"This whole year, I never really prided myself on production, points, goals or anything like that, just on the way I played.

"I didn't get that the first three games."

Over the 76 regular-season - a much larger if less onerous sample size - Tkachuk unfurled his potential over and over again.

"I grew in every aspect possible,'' he reasoned. "Playing with Back and Fro you're put up against the other team's top line every night. We played a lot of really good teams from Game 60 to the end of the playoffs, tough match-ups every night, playing more minutes."

The campaign following an eye-catching freshman season, though, is often booby-trapped. With early achievement/recognition comes heightened expectation, added scrutiny.

"Everything starts with me being young and not as strong as I can potentially be,'' said Tkachuk of his coming summertime regimen. "Strength is the biggest thing I need to work on.

"With strength comes speed."

So maybe not the playoff he himself, or many others, had envisioned. But the groundwork has been laid. And, well, never forget, he is still a kid, only 19, after all …

"I don't think there was a change in his game,'' argued Treliving. "Matthew's going to be an impactful player for a long time.

"Getting into the (NHL) playoffs, that was a new experience for him. We had a long chat about that today.

"What I did tell him is to have a goal in the summer, there should be a little fear when you prepare and train.

"It's going to be harder next year. And he's now got a full summer to prepare. This may be his longest off-season in three years. And that's going to be important.

"He's a young guy and you can't just say 'Oh, we'll pick it up next year.'

"He gets to re-set. It's hard. It doesn't just … happen.

"But I think he's going to have a really good summer.

"I don't worry about Matthew."


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