The Flames are a team that's tough to get a handle on. In some ways they're building a blue line that could eventually be one of the deepest in the league. From another view, they're building a fast offense that's tough to contain. But Brian Burke has said he wants them to be a "black and blue" team. Bob Hartley wins the Jack Adams, and then gets fired the next year. There are a lot of contradictions built into the Flames.
The top of their NHL roster is strong both at defense and forward. Their prospect pool isn’t deep, but there’s talent at the top in both positions as well. They desperately need goaltending, but that’s not an issue that’s solved any time in the next three years through reaching for a top goaltender in the draft.
They have many needs, but don’t need to draft out of a stance of organizational weakness. The biggest need, as outlined below, is probably defensive depth in the prospect pool. At forward, a center might make a lot of sense, as things thin out quickly after Sean Monahan. But with a coaching change this offseason and Burke making strong statements about what kind of team he wants this to be, it makes a lot of sense for them to go with the least likely thing and grab left wing Matthew Tkachuk from the OHL's London Knights.
Calgary’s Prospect Pool
It’s not shallow, necessarily, but it’s top heavy and has had a handful of players graduate from being prospects in the last couple seasons. At the top of their next wave are forwards Sam Bennett (who started showing how good he’ll be last year) and Emilie Poirier a depth center acquired via trade last season.
They’ve also added to that pool by signing European free agent Daniel Pribyl, turning Markus Granlund (a center) into boom or bust prospect Hunter Shinkaruk, and got 2012 1st round draft pick Mark Jankowski to put ink to paper. He could have gone to free agency after four years at Providence College. Additionally, getting Andrew Mangiapane in the mix adds another forward with potential.
On the back end Oliver Kylington and Tyler Wotherspoon are their top defenders. This is probably a spot where the prospect pool needs to get deeper, but at the same time they have a solid group in the NHL that should be around for quite a while. That includes 22-year-old Patrick Sieloff and adding Jyrki Jokipakka to that group in the Kris Russell trade deadline deal with the Stars.
Again, their biggest organizational need is a starting goaltender, but it’s not yet time to write off Joni Ortio, and Jon Gillies still projects to be a very promising player as he develops (he missed most of last season with an injury).
About Matthew Tkachuk
It’s easy to connect Tkachuk’s game to that of his father, Keith Tkachuk. He does it too. But it’s about more than a surname. The younger Tkachuk has already been seen to embody that nastiness that his father was capable of displaying. He explained his father's game to NHL.com, "He would have no problem whacking a guy, sticking up for a teammate or just being vocal. Throughout his career it seemed there was never a time he didn't have a letter on his jersey."
That serves as a pretty good description of his own game, and it makes him of the mold that could make him a perfect fit for the Flames. It’s easy to notice Gaudreau as an example of what the team is becoming, but he was a late-round high-upside pick that panned out. The players they are building around are more in the mold of Sean Monahan. They want big, strong forwards who can score but are maybe most comfortable grinding it out in the corners.
His most praised asset may be his hockey IQ. He’s smart, has great hands and sees the ice exceptionally well. However, his foot speed is an issue. As ESPN’s Corey Pronman notes, "He's not slow, but he's certainly not a top-end speedster, either." That can leave him exposed in the defensive zone sometimes. That’s made some scouts question his defensive game, but it may be less a matter of work ethic and defensive responsibility as becoming a better skater and learning to work inside his skill set.
How He’d Fit in With the Wild
Tkachuk would be a great fit for the Wild, and would be a winning pick if they made a trade to move up the draft order -- even if he wouldn't be my first of the second tier players. He doesn’t fulfill their need for center depth now and center depth in the prospect pool, but there’s no doubt that he’s a gamer and that he is a swiss army knife. He’s skilled offensively, and strong. He fits their need to get some high-ceiling offensive talent in the mix, because the prospect pool is thin outside of Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek.
You don’t really ever make up for a lack of foot speed except by getting better, but he has enough other assets that it's not of huge concern, particularly because many scouts have reported an A+ work ethic from the kid. We've seen guys who have the talent and work ethic overcome knocks on their skate before. See: Tavares, John.
On the other hand, he's not from Minnesota, so he'd have an uphill battle with fans.