The Impact of Matthew Tkachuk on Florida’s Improbable Run

Via The Athletic

The Impact of Matthew Tkachuk on Florida’s Improbable Run


The Impact of Matthew Tkachuk on Florida’s Improbable Run


Florida general manager Bill Zito shook the hockey world last July as he made a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames. Zito would send forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect and a 2025 first-round pick north in return for Matthew Tkachuk.

Huberdeau had just put up a 115-points and was instrumental in the Panthers President’s Trophy regular season. While it was a career year for Huberdeau, he had consistently been a 70-to-80-point player in previous seasons, raising questions if he could keep producing. Weegar had cemented himself in the Florida top four defensive skaters while notching a +40 +/- rating. In short, this was sending away two solid players coming off career seasons.

Tkachuk had expressed that he did not want to explore a long-term extension with Calgary as the Flames saw its Pacific Division winning core start to evaporate. The 25-year-old was coming off a career year himself with 42 goals in 104 points. While he was only beginning to enter the prime of his career, there were still questions if he could produce at near a 100-point level with regularity. The most points the forward had in a season prior to 2021-22 was 77 points in 80 games in the 2018-19 season.

Zito saw the potential in Tkachuk and immediately inked him to an eight-year, $76 million extension following the trade. It wasn’t just Zito who chose Tkachuk. Tkachuk also chose Florida. In an interview last summer, Tkachuk stated he “wanted to be in Florida for both the on-ice product and off-ice perks.” He continued, explaining how he believed the Panthers had “put themselves in a position to win the Cup.” He finished the interview by saying that he hopes to end his career in South Florida.

Zito had acquired a player that would not only prove to be an immediate impact, but also wanted to spend the rest of his career expanding hockey in South Florida. It was apparent early in the 2022-23 regular season that Tkachuk was just getting started being an absolute beast on the ice. The forward would end the regular season with 40 goals and a career-high 109 points as the Cats snuck into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the number eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

Tkachuk has really come to the center of the hockey world during the improbable playoff run of the Panthers this season. Tkachuk began his postseason dominance in the first round against the statistical best regular season team of all time in the Boston Bruins. He would tally five goals and six assists in the seven-game series including two massive goals in an elimination game six.

While he would not find the back of the net in the second-round series against Toronto, he would tally five assists including three in a 4-2 game-one win. The second head of the Panthers two-headed, goal-scoring monster, Carter Verhaeghe, would handle the clutch scoring in this series.

Tkachuk boosted his postseason from solid to near elite in the Cats most recent series win in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Carolina Hurricanes. Tkachuk and the Panthers would sweep the Panthers, winning each game by one goal. Tkachuk played hero in three of the four games. He would end a four-overtime thriller in game one with under 15 seconds left in the seventh period of play, then would promptly open the door to the locker room and march down the tunnel.

Tkachuk’s flare for the dramatic would continue in game two as he potted the overtime winner yet again, this time early into the first extra frame. He would once again promptly exit the ice and march down the tunnel to the locker room as if it was business as usual. In game three the forward would have the primary assist on the game’s only goal as the Panthers took a 3-0 series lead.

Tkachuk would score twice in the series-clinching game four. His first goal gave the Panthers a 2-0 advantage early in the game. The Hurricanes would battle back and tie the game at three with less than three minutes left. A Jordan Stall penalty with just under a minute left in regulation would set up Tkachuk’s third game-winning goal and fourth game-winning point of the series. 

With just 4.3 seconds left, the 25-year-old would find the puck on his stick in the center of the ice. Showing brilliant patience, Tkachuk would wait for Frederik Andersen to make his move and then deposit the game and series-clinching goal into the back of the net. The goal would give Tkachuk nine goals and 21 points in just 16 playoff games. Four of his nine goals have been game winners.

Tkachuk has put himself as the co-favorite on the team to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for Postseason MVP. Baring another Panther completely taking over in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Conn Smythe race appears to be between him and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. It seems like the Panthers are a team of destiny and Matthew Tkachuk is leading the charge.

Whatever happens over the next two weeks will not change the fact that Bill Zito brought in a player via trade in what appears to be a major steal. The Panthers have themselves a potential superstar player who is just entering his prime and wants to play the rest of his career with the franchise. Florida is primed to be a perennial contender for the foreseeable future.


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