Yakimov had a glowing review of his fellow young Russian. But Tkachev, an undrafted free agent, was still unsigned by the Oilers.
“He was so good here. I think Edmonton wants him.” Yakimov said.
Apparently, Edmonton did want Tkachev. The Oilers signed the 5-foot-8, 141-pound winger to a three-year entry level contract on Tuesday.
“I’m really excited about it,” Tkachev said, according to Nail Yakupov who translated the interview. “I’m really happy to be here with a great team. For me, it’s a great opportunity to be a part of the Oilers.”
|Photo provided by the Jonathan Kozub/Winnipeg Jets. |
Tkachev earned this contract. The 18-year-old went undrafted, but after the draft he got a phone call from Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish, inviting him to the Oilers Rookie Camp.
Tkachev played three games for the Oilers in Penticton, B.C. at the Young Stars Tournament. He recorded three assists, and left an impression on the man who invited him to camp.
“He was a dominant player here,” MacTavish said in Penticton. “I’ve seen him play a few times and every time you see him play he’s a dominant player. You want to continue to give him the opportunity and that definitely caught everybody’s attention and interest at this point.”
So the Oilers continued to give Tkachev opportunities, and the skillful Russian took advantage.
At the University of Alberta, Tkachev recorded an assist on Yakimov’s goal. He found Kyle Platzer with pass from blueline to blueline, all the way down the ice. Platzer set up a streaking Yakimov for the goal.
Then he hit the ice for main camp and his first NHL pre-season.
He’s appeared in three exhibition games for the Oilers, recording three assists.
One of the prettier helpers so far came when Tkachev found Yakimov on a 2-on-1 rush with a beautiful tape-to-tape pass to tie the Oilers pre-season game against the Jets in Winnipeg.
|Yakimov (left) and Tkachev (right) celebrate a goal at the Young Stars Tournament. Photo by Jeff Vinnick. |
“The signing of Tkachev is encouraging,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “Good on that young man. He’s a player who has defied the odds with his size. He has an incredible skill-set and his ability to handle the puck, protect the puck, make plays, enter the zone under control and not be intimidated by any kind of size is impressive to watch.”
The forward has impressed not only the coaching staff and management, but his teammates as well.
“He’s one of those guys, you’ve always got to be ready when he’s out there,” Oilers defenceman Mark Fayne said. “Even if you don’t think he can get it to you, there’s ways he can find it. He’s just all around a tricky guy to follow.”
Oilers top-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is skilled in his own right, but he has been thoroughly impressed with the youngster.
“He’s a dynamic player,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s shown it over the last few games. He’s not the biggest guy, like you say, but it doesn’t matter for him obviously. He uses his ability to his advantage. He’s not scared out there, which is great to see. He’ll put himself in a situation where he has to make a play knowing he’ll get hit and he just doesn’t seem to care. It’s a great sign going forward here and once he bulks up, who knows what he can do?”
Size was the knock on Tkachev all camp. But he doesn’t let that bother him. He says, “I don’t care about size.”
He’s shown thus far in camp that he has an ability to overcome a supposed lack of NHL size.
“He kind of looks like this kid that showed up and we gave him a bunch of men’s equipment and a sweater and it’s hanging off him,” Eakins said. “Everyday, you’re waiting for him to fall off but he keeps getting better. I’m proud of him, he’s done extremely well and now he’s been rewarded with an NHL contract.”
Heading into camp, the lack of a contract didn’t weigh on Tkachev’s mind.
“I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I just came here to play, play in Oilers Rookie Camp, play at main camp and see how it goes. I got a contract so I’m happy now.”
He has done just what he set out to do; play well in whatever opportunity the Oilers have given him.
“The first thing I thought was to play good at rookie camp, then I played well and tried to do the same thing here,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job here too.”
When camp is over, Tkachev will head back to the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He’ll do so armed with the NHL contract he worked so hard to earn.