The Florida Panthers got a rare opportunity in the offseason when the Flames made Matthew Tkachuk available in a trade and they gave up a haul to make sure they could bring to Sunrise.
The trade — sending Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and a future first-round pick to Calgary — wound up being one of the biggest blockbusters in recent history. For the first time this century, two players coming off 100-point seasons, Tkachuk and Huberdeau, were traded for each other. In fact, only four players since 2000 have recorded 100 points in one season and then started the next year with a different team, and half of those occurrences happened because of this one trade.
It gave Tkachuk a chance to join rare company this year and now he has. After recording a hat trick in the Panthers’ 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the All-Star right wing joined Wayne Gretzky as one of only four players in NHL history to log 100 points in back-to-back seasons with two different teams.
“It’s pretty cool,” Tkachuk said Thursday when informed of his place next to the Hockey Hall of Famer on this exclusive list, “but probably the last time I’ll ever be in the same sentence as him.”
Really, it’s basically because Gretzky is on a plane all his own, though. Tkachuk, 25, has ascended to true superstar status this year, could be a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy and stake a claim as the best American player in the league.
The others on the exclusive list are former All-Star center Jimmy Carson and former center Mike Rogers, and Tkachuk is almost certain to wind up with the second most points of this group, behind only Gretzky, who had 114 points in his first year with the Kings during the 1988-89 NHL season.
At 101 points with six games to go, Tkachuk is on pace to top his single-season career best of 104, which he set last year, and finish the year with the fourth most points in the NHL.
Matthew Tkachuk (FLA19) reached the 100-point mark for the second straight season in FLA's 5-2 win over MTL.
He had a hat trick, and assist, and an 88% xGF% at 5v5.
Here are his most notable plays and puck touches from last night. #FlaPanthers #NHLPotN pic.twitter.com/4PaqhvupKF
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 31, 2023
He’s also doing this all in the middle of a postseason push. Florida’s win Thursday kept the Panthers (38-31-7) within a point of the Penguins for the second wild card, giving them a 38 percent chance to make the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. They could, however, move back into a playoff spot as soon as Saturday when they finish up a four-game road trip against the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets (23-43-8) at 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena.
“He wants more,” forward Anton Lundell said Thursday. “He’s not satisfied to get one goal or one point. He wants more all the time, and he really pushes the whole team and the linemates.”
Lundell is actually good proof of how Tkachuk provides more than just point scoring.
The star forward spent most of the season playing on Sam Bennett’s wing, but the center has missed six straight games with an unspecified injury, forcing Florida to try out different options in the middle of Tkachuk’s second line. For the last two games, coach Paul Maurice settled on Lundell, who hadn’t notched a point in all of March until he scored in the first minute of his first game next to Tkachuk on Wednesday. He then scored two goals the next day to help the Panthers sweep a back-to-back set in Canada and keep their postseason hopes afloat.
Among players to log at least 1,000 minutes so far this year, Tkachuk ranks second in Fenwick percentage, second in Corsi percentage and 10th in expected goals percentage, according to MoneyPuck.com. These advanced statistics, which are various ways to measure 5-on-5 possession time and how what percentage of quality chances belong to a player’s own team when he’s on the ice, paint the same picture the eyes tell: Florida is dominant when Tkachuk is on the ice and the fact no other Panther ranks in the top 20 in any of these categories means it doesn’t matter who plays next to Tkachuk.
“There’s no cheat in his game,” Maurice said Thursday. “Really, really good players anticipate and then just good players cheat. He doesn’t have any of that. He’s not hanging in behind the play, he doesn’t stretch plays, he’s not trying to do things with the puck that are all offense with no understanding of the cost of the defensive game. His defensive game has gotten way better. ... He has an incredible sense of hands, but he also has a really good sense of how to defend.”
Tkachuk, unsurprisingly, said none of these individual accolades or recognition will mean anything to him if Florida can’t get into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Panthers, though, can take solace in one thing no matter how this season ends: Their trade for Tkachuk has worked out about as well as possible and he’s locked up to stay in South Florida until 2030.
Said Tkachuk: “They made the adjustment for me very, very easy to come to a new team and have some fun.”