Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (NCAA)
Position: Center/Left Wing
Age on Draft Day: 18.78 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’3, 196 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 40 GP, 8 G, 23 A, 61 PIM, +15
NHL Central Scouting: 2nd (North American Skaters)
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 2nd
ISS Hockey: 4th
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 4th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 5th
Every year there is a major difference of opinion on one notable draft eligible prospect with size. This year, the divide is based around Brady Tkachuk. As the rankings show, a number of scouting services rank Tkachuk very high. Particularly notable is Bob McKenzie ranking him fourth, as McKenzie is merely the messenger for a pool of NHL scouts whose opinions he seeks. We rank him ninth, which is the lowest I’ve seen. I’ll do my best to justify this ranking.
Tkachuk is in a lot of ways exactly what one would imagine the son of Keith Tkachuk might look like as a hockey player. He’s a big, strong power forward who can bully players and use his strength to shield the puck. And the potentially scary part is that he’s actually pretty lanky relative to his frame. There’s still plenty of room for growth.
My first concern with players like Tkachuk is whether they can skate. It’s not 1993 anymore, where the two-line pass and leniency regarding obstruction slowed the game down. In his case, he is a pretty good skater. He’s not going to explode forward from a resting position, but when in-stride he powers down the ice and has decent lateral movement.
Tkachuk continues to envelop the power forward persona in his offensive zone activity. He knows his role. He gets below the goal line and uses his body to create leverage. He powers towards the net front looking to either score down low or at least create havoc.
In many ways, however, he deviates from the stereotype; for better or worse. Though he can pot his share of goals, he’s actually more of a playmaker than shooter. He’s not a threat to score from outside the slot, which limits him as a scorer in ways that aren’t the case for, say, Oliver Wahlstrom; who can score from many different types of plays in different areas of the offensive zone. Instead, Tkachuk is more of a playmaker. Using his body and reach to create separation between himself and defenders, he then utilizes that space to make passes towards the net front. He’s also a crafty passer off the rush and likes sending goaltenders to their metaphorical graves with a quick second pass against the grain immediately after receiving one himself.
I thought Tkachuk was just okay at Boston College, but excellent at the 2018 World Junior Championship, where he registered nine points in seven games. There’s no doubt that Tkachuk is a good player; but how good? Here is where data comes into play, and for Tkachuk its conclusions are somewhat mixed.
Jeremy Davis of Canucks Army does absolutely incredible work putting together data on prospects for the purposes of projecting NHL careers. Tkachuk’s numbers during his freshman season at Boston University weren’t great; at least, relative to where many scouts rank him. Based on SEAL-adjusted scoring, a statistic which adjusts a player’s point total to account for his age, the league he plays in, on-ice situation, and era, Tkachuk ranks 16th in the draft in point production.
Furthermore, the list of historically comparable NCAA players around his age with similar production is a lukewarm offering at best. There are a few significant names on the list, such as Ryan Kesler and Kyle Turris. However, there were a fair share of non-NHLers. As Jeremy notes, Tkachuk there are many comparable players with good NHL careers; Anson Carter, Scott Mellenby, Drew Stafford, etc. Those are not the kinds of players you’re dreaming about with a top-five pick in the draft, though.
Finally, Tkachuk is one of the oldest players in the draft. He literally missed eligibility for the 2017 NHL Draft by one day. That’s more or less one fewer year of development ahead of him. Development isn’t linear; some players plateau at 17 while others see a big jump at 20. But Tkachuk’s age is a legitimate concern in terms of how high his ceiling might be.
Here is where data does potentially work in Tkachuk’s favor. First, Tkachuk’s shooting percentage in his freshman NCAA season was absurdly low. On a team with a ton of offensive talent, much of which was significantly older than Tkachuk, he was second in shots-per-game, with an average of 3.27. However, his measly 6.1% shooting resulted in just eight goals. Again, to some degree this can be attributed to his not having a great shot. Even still, 6.1% is very low; particularly for a player who shoots around the net front so frequently. In particular, he started the year with no goals on 42 shots in his first 13 games. With a bit more puck luck, his SEAL surely jumps up a decent amount.
Secondly, there’s his overall impact on the pace of the game. “He makes an impact away from the scoresheet” is often a weak attempt to justify a player’s otherwise poor performance. Tkachuk genuinely did drive play for Boston University, though. As previously mentioned, he is good in transition, passes well, and uses his size to create leverage. According to data collected by Yahoo Sports’ Ryan Lambert, BU had a significantly higher portion of the shot share (Corsi) with Tkachuk on the ice than without him. Furthermore, his line drew a number of penalties. There are also some fair questions to be raised about BU Head Coach David Quinn’s usage of Tkachuk as well as how Tkachuk might look in a different system. That’s a grey area which is hard to address with data (at least right now), so it’s on scouts to step up and make that interpretation.
In previous drafts, old school “Hockey Men” vastly overrated late-first round caliber players such as Lawson Crouse and Michael Rasmussen simply because they were big. Do I think Tkachuk’s size and name brand recognition are inflating his worth in the eyes of scouts? Yes, I do.
I think there has been a bit of an overcorrection is some crowds, though. Unlike, Crouse and Rasmussen, Tkachuk is a bonafide top-10 talent who probably is not too far off from making an impact at the NHL level. Even though I rank him ninth, I think drafting him as high as seventh overall is justifiable. He skates well enough and makes plays to push the puck forward. I have serious doubts that he can be the focal point of a top line, but I do think he can make a more than modest contribution on the scoresheet while also doing other things to drive play for his team. Shooting ability aside, there are not really any major holes in Tkachuk’s game. He’s going to be a good NHLer. I just personally believe teams should aspire for more with top selections, and there are eight players in my mind who offer a better package of current ability and upside.
In a theoretical world where the NHL Draft plays out exactly as our rankings suggest, Tkachuk would be the Rangers’ pick at ninth overall. Ironically, he is one of the least likely players to end up a Ranger. Reading the tea leaves, it seems improbable that Tkachuk will drop lower than seventh overall, and there is serious chatter about him going as high as fourth overall to Ottawa.
What Others Have Said
Matthew Tkachuk (via National Post):
“He’s kind of that dual threat where he can beat you with speed, power and with quick, tight plays as well.”
Mitch Brown, The Athletic:
“Tkachuk is unlikely to become a dynamic goal scorer. I don’t see a natural finisher around the crease or the tools to become a sniper like Zadina or Wahlstrom are.”