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Tkachuk ready for ninth game

Matthew Tkachuk is feeling calm heading into his ninth game of the year

by Torie Peterson @ToriePeterson /

CHICAGO, IL -- Matthew Tkachuk has eight NHL games under his belt.

Tonight will likely be game number nine for the 2016 sixth overall pick and that bears a great deal of significance for Tkachuk, the Flames coaching staff and hockey operations crew.

The nine-game mark is a trial run of sorts. If a team determines a player is better suited to be reassigned to their junior club, they can do so ahead of a rookie's 10th NHL game without burning a year on their entry-level contract.

"You have to keep it in the back of your mind that it's still a try-out," Tkachuk said after the team's morning skate at the United Center. "It could be the last game, it could be one of many. 

"I think if I play like I have the last little bit, I should be fine.

"I know everybody is making a big deal about this nine or ten-game stint, but even if I play after, it's still on a try-out because there's still potential for me to be back in junior. Ultimately, I want to stay in the NHL. That's my goal."

Thus far, he has impressed his head coach.

Glen Gulutzan has liked what he has seen from the 18-year-old, particularly in his last stretch of games. Tkachuk has points in his last three games and has been playing alongside Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, meaning he has been tasked with going head-to-head with opponent's top lines.

"For Matthew, he's done everything in my mind that he can do. He's just got to stay focused on playing and playing his game," Gulutzan noted.

"We've had him in tough situations. We've had him in St. Louis, that's an emotional game for him. We've had him play against some of the best players -- the other night -- in the world and he's done well.

"He's handled himself. He's done what he can and we'll just see what transpires here in the next few days."

If Tkachuk remains on a line with Backlund and Frolik, there's no doubt he'll see ice time against Chicago's top line of Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane or their second unit of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Marian Hossa.

Tkachuk relishes these kinds of experiences and views them as excellent learning opportunities as he continues to learn what it takes to play in the NHL on a nightly basis.

"I'm really excited to play here. I didn't get a chance to play last game here. I'm really excited to play in this building, in front of the fans.

"I think I just need to bring the same game I've brought the last game and a little bit of the games before that ... my last three games, keep that rolling -- always being around the puck, using my teammates -- our line is playing pretty well right now so I think it's just creating chemistry and making sure that we're hard to play against.

"We seem to be out there against some pretty good players as of late. The teams we've played have had some high-end players and tonight's the same way with Toews, Kane, Panarin, all of those guys. Be hard on them and trying to put the puck in the back of the net."

Tkachuk is pleased with how he's played, especially as of late, but sees plenty of room for growth.

"I've got to keep playing to my strengths. (The coaches) Know that, I know that. I've just got to keep it going.

"I think that I have a lot more to give and ... I have another gear. I'm still just getting my feet wet in this league."

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