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FEATURE | Tkachuk blazing his own trail

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers
Action from Game 4 of the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup between London Knights forward Matthew Tkachuk and Brandon Wheat Kings forward Reid Duke. Photo by Rob Wallator/CHL Images.

The London Knights need every goal they can get.

That’s what Matthew Tkachuk, forward for the Ontario Hockey League squad, said matter-of-factly on Monday night at the MasterCard Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

“We know how the tiebreaker works and if you’re ever in that position you want to have a good goal differential,” he explained.

Continuing their quest for the national junior title against the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Knights secured a 9-1 victory, earning a two-game win streak.

Tkachuk improved his tournament stat-line to three points.

“We were expecting it to be a lot of up-and-down hockey,” he said. “Their [defence] like to join the rush and on that first shift we had a couple two-on-one opportunities so we knew if we would keep hammering down our systems and all that we’d be getting our chances, and we did.”

As a projected 2016 top-five NHL Draft pick, Tkachuk is more than pleased with how his first OHL season has turned out.

“Well, we’re here right now and that was my main goal at the beginning of the year — to make it as far as I can,” said the 18-year-old. “The Memorial Cup is the ultimate goal. Myself, and the rest of the team we wanted to be here.”

Though the Knights forward admits he is far from focused on the upcoming draft, his team’s Owner, President and Head Coach Dale Hunter said it’s inevitable to shake it from a player’s subconscious.

London Knights Owner, President and Head Coach Dale Hunter. Photo by Rob Wallator/CHL Images.

“It’s always in the back of their mind,” he said. “Whoever’s been in the draft was going to be a little bit worried about it. Where are they sitting, what are they going to do, are they moving up or moving down? But when you get to this tournament, I think it’s — with all four teams — everybody’s got draft eligible players that’s here to win, to play as a team and win.”

Tkachuk’s discipline and dedication to the sport has far exceeded any expectations scouts may have had for his first season with the Knights.

Rated second among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Tkachuk recorded 33 goals and 77 assists for 107 points in 57 games this season, as well as 40 points in 18 post-season games that contributed to the team’s 2016 OHL Championship status.

As part of London’s 100-point trio this season — playing alongside Christian Dvorak and Mitchell Marner — Tkachuk has twice been named CHL Player of the Week, as well as being awarded the Pioneer Energy OHL Player of the Week three times this year.

“He came in here and — being a Keith, being his dad, is always a comparison — but he does his own thing,” said Hunter.

“He plays a lot like his dad, he’s got a lot of his dad in him… and it’s a good thing. Keith had a great NHL career and scored tons of goals and played hard, played in front of the net and scores goals, not just off the rush, he scores down low.”

Born in Scottsdale, Arizona, Tkachuk’s early hockey roots blossomed in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was ultimately immersed in the culture of the professional sport that he’s grown up pursuing.

“I spent a lot of time with my mom obviously because [my dad] was gone a lot and she was — the stories about her — putting me on the ice when I was two and skating around with me and me hating it at first, but her continuing to push me,” said Tkachuk. “So, not only my dad but my mom had a huge part in my development when I was younger.

London’s 100-point trio this season, Mitchell Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthe Tkachuk. Photo by Getty Images.

Son of former 50-goal man Keith Tkachuk, Matthew was exposed to the inner workings of the National Hockey League when his dad, as a veteran with the Blues, would take in a rookie player every year to live with his family.

As a rookie was shown the ropes, in a way, so were Matthew and his brother Brady.

“I think that every time you have a chance to go to the rink early with your dad and see NHL players and the way they treat themselves on the ice, and off the ice, it helps show you that there’s a lot more to it than skill on the ice,” said Tkachuk. “There’s a lot that goes into it and I learned that at a young [age].”

Tkachuk’s parents may have been the fuel to the fire that lit the passion in the likely lottery selection, but make no mistake — he continues to stoke the flames himself.

“I’m my own player,” he said. “I’m going to have my own career and my pathway is different from theirs so there’s not a lot of comparing from, you know, from me to my dad or from me to my cousins, we just try to pave our own career way and go from there.”

Carrying on the family name, Tkachuk is more than pleased with how his first season with the Knights has gone and feels his development has exceled greatly.

“I think it’s been huge,” he said. “Especially, with all the events I’ve been in, I learned a lot at the World Juniors playing against the best in the world and some [other] events such as the All-American and CHL prospects too.”

Donning the red, white and blue with Team USA for the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, Tkachuk was a pivotal piece throughout the tournament.

Photo by Rob Wallator/CHL Images.

Recording 11 points in 7 games, he helped his country capture the bronze medal in an 8-3 win over Sweden, scoring two goals and adding an assist.

“Playing against the best guys, and in each country, for your age and being able to measure yourself up against those guys was huge. My development, I think, has taken off this year,” said Tkachuk

At the end of the day, Tkachuk’s confidence in what he brings to the table as a player is humbling as he continues blazing his own hockey trail.

“I think I’m, if not, one of the hardest workers on the ice and off the ice too,” he said. “I try to lead by example and I think my work ethic and my competitiveness is something that’s one of my biggest assets.”

The London Knights look to make it a three-game win streak and a perfect round-robin on Tuesday when they face the QMJHL Champions, Rouyn-Noranda, at 8 p.m. MDT.

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