PLYMOUTH, MI -- After playing the longest season of his hockey life, United States forward and Calgary Flames draft pick Matthew Tkachuk is enjoying some well-earned time off.
Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is here for National Junior Evaluation Camp but solely to get to know U.S. coach Bob Motzko, his staff and potential teammates for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"Definitely fun to be here and getting to know the coaching staff," Tkachuk said Monday. "Never met any of those coaches or worked with them before. Great to see some of the players that I've never played with or met before. And it's awesome to see the guys I played with before. They're still some of my best friends."
It's the longest Tkachuk has been off the ice in more than a year, starting with the 2016 National Junior Evaluation camp in Lake Placid, NY last August, through his season with London of the Ontario Hockey League, the 2016 WJC, the OHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, which extended his season through late May. Then came the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, a trip to San Jose for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, a return to Buffalo for the draft and Flames development camp early last month.
"I'd love to be out there playing but there's no need for me to be out there playing with the long season I had," Tkachuk said. "And rest is probably the best thing for me at this point. … Talking with [U.S. WJC general manager] Jim Johansson about it, he was completely understanding about it. He wanted the same for me. We all know that when I come back, if I have the chance to represent this team at Christmastime, I want to be a leader and want to be looked upon as a leader."
Tkachuk excelled at every stop during his long season. He was fifth in the OHL with 107 points in 57 games; tied for the U.S. scoring lead at the 2016 WJC with 11 points in seven games; led the OHL playoffs with 20 goals in 20 games; and scored the game-winning goal in the Memorial Cup championship game playing on an injured ankle.
He's healthy now, evidenced by his full participation at Flames development camp last month. The key now is for him to rest and be ready for the start of the NHL season in Calgary, and if possible a chance to play for the United States at the 2017 WJC.
"I'm so excited to hopefully have the chance to represent my country at Christmas again and be a leader," he said. "It's my second year, show the guys what it takes to be successful at that tournament. It's a short tournament, lots of games in not so many nights. It would be special to be a mentor."
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor