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Matthew Tkachuk may be answer for Flames

Forward prospect isn't shy about asking right questions to make Calgary's roster

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PENTICTON, BC -- Left wing Matthew Tkachuk knows it's up to him to show he's ready to be a full-time member of the Calgary Flames this season. 

He has done the homework and quizzed the teachers.

"It's funny, because really, he has more questions about how he's going to do it," Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy said. "It's refreshing, because it's not like you're telling him. He's asking you, 'What do I need to do to make this team? What is it going to take for me to make this team? What do I need to do?'"

Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is naturally curious.

The 18-year-old is well aware the Flames made forwards Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett NHL regulars when they were teenagers.

He already was trying to figure out how he could become the next teenager in Calgary's lineup before he was officially greeted as a member of the organization on draft day. 

"I just remember asking them that," said Tkachuk, who arrived in Calgary four days prior to the start of rookie camp to join veteran members of the Flames in informal skates. "I think it was at the combine or maybe at my visit before the draft. That's everybody's goal, is to make it early. That's my goal. Some guys recently in the Flames organization have been able to succeed in that goal. I want to be one of them."

Bennett, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 Draft, made the Flames roster as a 19-year-old last season and had 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 77 games. His first NHL experience came at the tail end of 2014-15, when he played in Calgary's final regular-season game at 18, and dressed for 11 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: 1-on-1 with Matthew Tkachuk

Monahan grabbed a spot on the Calgary roster months after he was the No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft. He scored six goals in his first eight NHL games as a 19-year-old, and has 159 points (80 goals, 79 assists) in 237 NHL games over three seasons.

"[Tkachuk] asked about [Monahan]," Conroy said. " 'What did Monahan do?'

"I'll be honest, [Monahan] scored every game, almost. He had six goals to start the season. That pretty much locked him in. But you know what, whatever happens, [Tkachuk] just has to do his best and work. His mindset is he wants to be a Calgary Flame this year."

The mental side is one battle; the test will be whether Tkachuk is ready physically.

At 6-feet-2, 202 pounds, it appears the vitals are in line for Tkachuk to push for a roster spot.

So is his resume. He had 107 points (30 goals, 77 assists) in 57 regular-season games with London of the Ontario Hockey League last season, and followed that with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 18 playoff games to help power London to the Memorial Cup.

Not to mention the bloodlines; his father, Keith, played 18 seasons in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Thrashers.

But playing into late May on a bad ankle at the Memorial Cup, where he scored in overtime to give London its second title, shortened Tkachuk's offseason significantly.

Trips to the NHL Draft Combine and NHL Draft in June, development camp with the Flames in early July, and the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp into August limited his offseason training, too.

"Probably not enough time to train the way he'd like to, but he's making strides," Conroy said. "He's gotten better. Is there still room? Yeah, there's room for improvement. With everybody. That's the hard part. He only had a short window with his injury, limited him a little more.

"One thing I can say is everything we asked him to do … he's done it. He's gone above and beyond, and tried to do as much as he can. That's the one good thing I can say. He did everything humanly possible in the time frame given to be there.

"If he had four months to do that, would you be a little ahead? Yeah, of course. But he's put the effort in and the work in, and now we're going to see if the time frame was enough."

Tkachuk thinks it has been. He's planning to prove he's ready for NHL minutes.

"I feel awesome," he said. "I feel great. I hope my play is going to show that.

"They've been telling me from Day One, since they drafted me, they're not going to push me into playing right away, and they're not going to send me back just to send me back. It's all up to my play. If I show I'm ready to play, then I'll play."

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