Matthew Tkachuk wants to strong-arm his new employers in the most positive way possible.
The newest member of the Calgary Flames wants to force his way onto his new club come fall.
“We sat in my office a few weeks ago and he said ‘If you draft me I’m going to make your team’,” recounted Flames general manager Brad Treliving, Tkachuk’s new boss, following the conclusion of the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY.
“But I told him that I’m not looking for the guy who makes the team the fastest but the guy who’s going to be the best when he gets here.”
From the sounds of it, Tkachuk is going to shoot for both.
“Probably right now, it’s going to … put it this way,” he started. “I think right now it should be a lot different than when it comes to camp. I think I’m going to be physically in the best shape of my life, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
He's already well on his way.
Tkachuk was selected sixth overall by Treliving and the Flames following a standout season with the London Knights that was capped with an overtime goal to win the Memorial Cup in Red Deer in late May.
He had five goals and eight points in the four-game tournament, building on his 107-point regular season campaign, and 20-goal, 40-point performance in 18 playoff games to hoist the J. Ross Robertson Cup as Ontario Hockey League champions.
“The one thing about Matthew is that he’s competitive,” Treliving said. “Brains and competitiveness are two big attributes, and he’s a guy that’s real smart -- he has played with really good players and can think and play with really good players -- but to me he plays in the guts of the game.
“He has innate ability around the net and he goes to the places where you have to to score goals in this league. He’s an absolute pain in the rear end to play against.”
A fit with the Flames, perhaps?
After running down the left side alongside Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder Mitchell Marner and Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak to form major junior’s most dangerous line in 2015-16, Tkachuk hesitated, slightly, about graduating to ride shotgun on Calgary’s top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
“Yeah, well, this year I played a little bit of right wing and found the adjustment pretty easy,” said Tkachuk, a natural left-winger. “It’s just -- I don’t know, it’s something I haven’t really thought about yet, but I know how much talent they have, and I want to be a part of that team, and they have such great players.
“I hope to make that team.”
The odds might already be against Tkachuk despite some telling recent history.
“We’ll worry about making teams and all that in September,” Treliving said. “We caution people because he’s still a very young man and we’re going to take our time with Matthew. We know he’s driven.”
But plenty know -- including Tkachuk himself -- that the Flames have a penchant for putting teenagers in the lineup.
Monahan, selected sixth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, solidified himself as a regular in Calgary the fall following his draft. Sam Bennett, who was buoyed by a shoulder injury that required surgery months after being selected fourth overall in 2014, popped back on the Flames roster for a run in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at 18, and added 77 games in 2015-16 as a 19-year-old.
Tkachuk is aware.
He’s aware that Monahan and Bennett weren’t gifted their opportunities, too.
But he's optimistic.
“It’s good news to hear, yeah,” he said. “It’s good when they give the young guy a shot, and that’s what you want. You want to play sooner than later, so I guess it’s a good thing. But they don’t just give you the opportunity, you have to earn it, and I’m going to do everything in my power to try and earn a spot.”