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Tkachuk calm before NHL Draft day

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

Matthew Tkachuk’s long year is winding down.

And 87 games -- regular season, playoffs, and otherwise -- will culminate into an evening of excitement for the London Knights forward.

June 24. First Niagara Center. Buffalo, NY.

The opening round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

And the highly touted Tkachuk won’t have to wait long for his moment.

“You never know what’s going to happen (at the draft),” Tkachuk said. “I’m going to be okay with anything that happens.”

It’s a calm attitude from the 18-year-old. Expectations are sky high for everyone. Tkachuk isn’t sweating it, though.

His resume shows why.

He recorded 30 goals and 107 points as part of a 57-game regular season with the Knights. Tkachuk added an OHL-leading 20 goals, and 40 points in 18 playoff games to help London to the J. Ross Robertson Cup as league champions. He had five goals -- including two in the tournament final; one of which being the overtime winner -- and eight points on a badly sprained ankle en route to a Memorial Cup championship.

He chipped in four goals and 11 points for Team USA at the World Junior Championship at Christmas, and captained Team Orr at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January.

The Scottsdale, AZ native finished second among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s ranking in part as a result of those exploits.

But he’s not about to brag.

“I just think I’m an offensive player who is good down low and is hard to play against below the dots, takes pucks to the net and scores some goals,” Tkachuk said.

He’s underselling himself.

Tkachuk helped form the most dominant line in junior hockey in 2015-16, riding on left wing with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitchell Marner, a first round pick in 2015, and Christian Dvorak, selected in the second round (No. 58) by the Arizona Coyotes in 2014.

And he’s attracted plenty of eyes along the way.

“Tkachuk …p laying with Marner and Dvorak…he’s really good below the dots,” teammate and fellow draft eligible forward Max Jones said. “He finds them. When he’s below the dots, behind their net, Marner or Dvorak get in front of the net … somehow Tkachuk finds a way to get the puck on their stick and it’s miraculous. On the power play, down low, he just knows where to put the puck. He’s really got good puck protection and he’s just really good with the puck and finding players.”

Knights blueliner Olli Juolevi knows the scouting report better than most.

He lived it in practice all year.

“He’s so strong, especially if he gets the puck near the boards or behind the net,” said Juolevi, regarded by some as the draft’s top defenceman. “He’s good at keeping the puck and using his big body. He’s a really smart guy. He can make good plays and passes.

“He’s a smart kid, and a very strong guy.”

Much like his dad.

He’s the son of longtime NHLer and United States Hall of Fame inductee Keith Tkachuk.

The scouting reports aren’t too far off either.

“Seeing his dad and just how he plays, he’s a competitor,” said Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy, who played against the father and has scouted the son. “He’s a true warrior out there. He comes to play every night. He competes. People are maybe worried about his skating. To see him do what he’s done … he’s got great hands, great skill and it’s all about winning for him.

“When you watch him, you walk out of there saying, ‘He’s giving you everything he’s got.’ He’s got a special skill set. His skating maybe needs to be improved. That will be the one thing they’re nitpicking him on. But the rest of his game is there.”

Tkachuk’s game is there, no doubt.

His moment at the draft will soon be coming, too.

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