It is not hard to figure out who the likely Calder Trophy finalists will be. The top rookie will either be Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine. Both of them are leading their respective franchises in goals, and while Laine has more points as of January 8, he is also out indefinitely with a concussion. The third best scorer who was drafted in the 2016 NHL Draft, meanwhile, is lurking with the Calgary Flames.
Matthew Tkachuk and Matthews each had 11 points to help the United States win bronze in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland, but Tkachuk has significantly fallen under the radar while Matthews has burst into the NHL scene. He admitted to not being surprised when the first overall pick of the 2016 draft scored four goals in his first NHL game.
As of now, Matthews has triple the number of goals of Tkachuk, who was drafted sixth in the same draft, but that does not mean he is three times better than his former juniors teammate. In fact, Tkachuk has a stronger case of being a Calder Trophy finalist than most NHL followers realize.
Matthews, along with fellow rookie teammates Connor Brown, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, have stolen the spotlight in Canada’s largest metropolis, but Tkachuk has blended into a team that has found their identity after a slow beginning to the season.
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have remained constants, but they do not stand out like they did last year. Some of that has to do with their ugly +/-, which is a combined -27, but they also have much more help this season. Tkachuk, who could have been sent back to the OHL in October, has recently been on a major tear with linemates Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, who leads the team with 12 goals and six in a five-game stretch in December/January.
To put his season in perspective, Tkachuk is the only rookie with a nine-game point streak after extending the streak on Saturday.
How about this. Per Elias, Matthew Tkachuk's 8-gm point streak is longest by a Flames rookie since Joe Nieuwendyk's 14-gm streak in 1987-88.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 7, 2017
With the Vancouver Canucks threatening to tie the game late (let us not ignore Chad Johnson’s spectacular night, especially in the third period, with one goal allowed on 29 shots), Tkachuk found Frolik for a breakaway goal to seal the game with less than two minutes remaining. That assist gave him sole possession of first in helpers (18) for the Flames, and he only trails Backlund and Gaudreau for team points.
According to Darren Haynes, Tkachuk has also excelled in even-strength scenarios and drawing penalties. Note that Garnet Hathaway has done even better at drawing penalties, and he also had an outstanding night on Saturday. This included a blistering hit on Luca Sbisa and an assist to Matt Stajan in the first period.
#Flames Even-Strength Points:
1. Tkachuk, 19
2. Frolik, 18
3. Gaudreau, 17
4. Hamilton, 16
T5. Backlund, Bennett, 15
T7. Monahan, Stajan, 14
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 8, 2017
NHL has a newish stat called penalties drawn per 60 minutes. Your top three:
1. Hathaway CGY, 3.30
2. Tkachuk, CGY, 3.00
3. Martin TOR, 2.60
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) December 24, 2016
It is unlikely that Tkachuk will win the Calder Trophy despite an impressive and unexpected beginning to his NHL career. Matthews, despite the plethora of other rookies on the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the heavy favorite at this point, and Laine is the only other rookie that has been on the same level as Matthews. There is no ignoring, however, how huge Tkachuk has been for a Flames team that is doing a great job at keeping pace in the Pacific Division and the wild card race. He deserves recognition, and possibly being a Calder Trophy finalist, if Calgary makes their way to the postseason.