TORONTO — Matthew Tkachuk didn’t mind that his summer was a little short. In fact, he wouldn’t have had it any other way
Tkachuk and his London Knights teammates enjoyed a deep run at the Memorial Cup that went well into May, with the team capping off their season by claiming the championship on the 29th day that month when Tkachuk tapped in the puck 7:49 minutes into overtime to beat the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
The win capped off a dominating season for the Knights and Tkachuk, a Calgary Flames prospect, is hoping he can carry over some of that winning momentum into his first NHL training camp.
“I’m one of the few guys that was on a winning team this past year,” he said. “I just think that I have that mindset where I know how to play big in those types of games and be on a winning team.”
Since hoisting the Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alta., the 18-year-old left winger has been spending much of his time skating and working out in Toronto (and hanging out with friends because he is 18, after all). With his reduced summer, he skipped Team USA's world junior camp and has instead made sure he is “re-energized and refocused for training camp."
This week, he was also at Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre — better known as Maple Leaf Gardens —to attend the 2016 NHLPA Rookie Showcase, an event held annually to allow the new crop of potential NHL newcomers a chance to pose for their Upper Deck rookie card, an item that is still very much prized in card-collecting circles.
While some of the prospects in attendance said they’d been devoted collectors during their childhood years — both Alex Tuch, a Minnesota Wild prospect, and Matthew Barzal, a New York Islanders prospect, estimated they owned around 2,000 cards —Tkachuk said he didn't have much of a card collection himself, not even a rookie card of his own father
Tkachuk, of course, is the son of former NHL star Keith, who played 19 seasons and more than 1,200 games in the league. While the younger Tkachuk may not have been all that interested in studying his dad’s rookie card, he is, however, keen to take heed of his father’s advice when it comes to becoming an NHL player.
“He always says the same two things to me, it’s ‘just compete and be a good teammate and if you do that, you’ll be all right,’ ” Tkachuk said, relaying his father’s words to a group of gathered reporters.
Tkachuk has also listened to his pop when it comes to approaching his first training camp.
“He said that summer leading up to the camp is the hardest he’s ever worked and put him in a spot to make it, so I kind of took that as motivation,” he said of his dad making the Winnipeg Jets' roster back in 1992–93, his official rookie season. (Keith played 17 regular season games and seven playoff games for the Jets the previous year.)
The younger Tkachuk, who was drafted sixth overall by Calgary in June, is hoping he can crack the roster of a Flames team that is in the midst of a rebuild. The Western Conference squad recently signed young, dynamic centreman Sean Monahan, with whom Tkachuk skated with this summer, and is reportedly continuing talks with winger Johnny Gaudreau, the other half of Calgary’s dynamic duo. Tkachuk said he likes what Calgary is building, and he wants to be part of that picture — sooner rather than later, if possible.
“It’s ultimately their decision, but in my opinion I want to put all the weight of the pressure on my own shoulders," he said "I want to go in there, and I want to compete for a job and it’s not going to be given to me and nothing’s going to be easy, but you know I feel like I’ve had a great summer.
“I obviously know that there’s potential spots that they have to fill just from trades and people not signing and stuff like that, and I would love to be one of those guys that comes in there and takes that spot,” he continued.
What Tkachuk brings to the table is being an effective goal-scorer and playmaker. He racked up 30 goals and 107 points in 57 OHL games with the Knights, but like his father, he can also play a gritty, tough style and enjoys being the guy causing havoc in front of the net. Tkachuk, while no doubt inspired by his dad's career, also listed Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and David Backes — who lived at Tkachuk's house for a year when Backes was starting out with the Blues — as players he looks up to.
With a few weeks to go until camp kicks off, Tkachuk said the feeling he has is “all excitement.”
“I’m excited to get back up to Calgary and Penticton for rookie camp. Season’s starting up again. I know I had a short summer, but that’s the way I wanted it. Season’s right around the corner and I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.
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