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Matthew Tkachuk could stick with Flames

Strong preseason has rookie forward close to roster spot

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Left wing Matthew Tkachuk could start the season with the Calgary Flames.

Coach Glen Gulutzan said seeing Tkachuk in the final preseason game at the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday wasn't needed to made a decision on whether to keep the 18-year-old with the Flames.

"Right now, we don't know if he played a real stinker or a real great one it would make a big difference," Gulutzan said before the 4-0 loss. "He's played pretty well from start to finish. I don't think it's out of the realm to say he's going to be here for game one [of the regular season], if things are status quo. We'll just play from there."

Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had two goals in five preseason games, and scored the shootout winner in a 2-1 victory against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.

"The goal is to get better every single day," Tkachuk said. "If I'm fortunate enough to stay, I just want to help this team win. Obviously, you want to stay. You want to be on this team. I just want to keep getting better every day. As long as I'm getting better every day, there are no worries."

Tkachuk, the son of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk, helped London of the Ontario Hockey League win the Memorial Cup last season. He had five goals in four games, including the overtime goal in the championship game. He was fifth in the OHL with 107 points in 57 games, and had a league-best 20 goals in 18 playoff games.

He's consulted Flames center Sean Monahan on how to avoid going back to junior. Monahan, 21, made the Flames as an 18-year-old after being selected by Calgary with the No. 6 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

"Earlier in camp I had him over for lunch after one of the practices," Monahan said. "One of his first questions was, 'How did you make the team?' It's a tough question to answer. Things have to fall into place. You have to work hard. You have to earn it to be here. It can't be given. It's the NHL. It's a tough league to play in.

"It's pretty clear that he wants to be here. I've talked to him quite a bit. He's a good player and a good kid. He works hard. It's good for him. He scores those goals in the dirty areas. He's there in the paint. That's what you have to do in this league to score. He gets that aspect of it. He's going to continue to work hard."

Video: VAN@CGY: Tkachuk jams home rebound for PPG

Tkachuk, who signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Flames on July 7, has earned positive reviews after clicking in camp on a line with center Sam Bennett and veteran right wing Troy Brouwer.

"He's played every game like it's his last," Gulutzan said. "He's battled.

"He's been a very consistent guy. When I look at young guys in the League, that's the biggest challenge. You can sometimes see those attributes fly out in a top pick … 'Ooohh the speed' or 'Ooohh the shot' or 'Ooohhh the strength,' but it's flashes. It's flashes until the light stays on.

"With Matty, what I've liked the most is it has been consistent. Usually consistency is what young guys don't have."

Gulutzan isn't sure how that consistency will hold up against stiffer competition. It's the biggest question that remains around Tkachuk.

"Even as we're talking, it's still an exhibition game [Wednesday], and if you look at Arizona's team … no [Connor] Murphy, no [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson, no [Alex] Goligoski ... it's still a partial American League defense there. It's not their top guys in the game," Gulutzan said.

"That'll change soon. That's why we're weighing our options here.

"When you're playing in the top two lines, you know you're getting the top-four [defensemen]. That's where the game becomes different. Nobody's matching in preseason. Everybody's rolling to take a look at their players. Every time Bennett, Brouwer and Tkachuk … if that's how we start … come on the ice, you're not getting the third and fourth pair.

"You're getting [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook (with the Chicago Blackhawks). You're getting [Drew] Doughty and [Jake] Muzzin (Los Angeles Kings). That's a different ballgame.

"That's why there's no decisions to be made. We'll just keep going here and see where he is at."

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