After a few days in which everyone but the Ottawa Senators organization was reporting that Brady Tkachuk was foregoing the rest of his NCAA career to sign a professional hockey contract with the Senators, the Senators officially announced Monday that this year’s fourth overall draft pick had signed a three-year entry-level contract with the organization.
In doing so, Tkachuk’s development path could now entail playing games with the Senators, their AHL affiliate in Belleville or with the OHL’s London Knights who own his junior rights.
In the team’s end of the year town hall sessions, general manager Pierre Dorion made a point of emphasizing how this year’s fourth overall draft selection would play next season. Given the lack of enthusiasm from the fan base for how the 2017-18 campaign and the accompanying headaches created from the unresolved contract situations of players like Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, it’s easy to understand why the organization would promote and market the hell out of this prospect.
The team needs to sell its product and is obviously having a difficult time convincing its fans to invest (or reinvest in its product). If you cannot sell a winner, the best thing you can do to entice fans to stick with the product is to sell hope for the future.
For the Senators, Tkachuk and players like Thomas Chabot, Logan Brown, Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson and Colin White, represent a large chunk of that future and some of these prospects should get significant opportunities to crack the squad out of camp this fall.
The departures of Mike Hoffman (trade) and Alex Burrows (bought out), may have created enough room on the left wing for Tkachuk to compete for a spot in the top nine out of camp, but the Senators will have to weigh a number of considerations to figure out what’s best for Tkachuk’s development.
Pundits loved Tkachuk’s intangibles, physicality and competitiveness, but the knock on Tkachuk is his offensive upside. At Boston University, the offensive numbers definitely left something to be desired as the freshman tallied 31 points but only eight goals in 40 games.
Inevitably, Tkachuk’s upside makes his successful development critical to the Senators’ future success, so inevitably, many are going to unfairly draw parallels to the failed development of Curtis Lazar.
Despite every prospect’s development and skill set being unique, Lazar’s development, or lack thereof, has and will continue to serve as a cautionary tale of what can happen when a prospect is left to fend for himself as a teenager at the game’s highest level.
At its core, it’s lazy analysis.
Just because Lazar oozed intangibles, but ultimately failed because his ability to play with the puck and produce offensively, doesn’t mean that Tkachuk is headed for a similar fate should the Senators elect to keep him on the parent roster for the foreseeable future.
Lazar’s shortcomings as a player don’t apply to Tkachuk, but there is no question that there are some very obvious reasons for stressing patience with Tkachuck’s development.
The Senators simply have to put him in a position where his development is best served – on and off the ice.
Allowing him to play a significant offensive role and get as many touches as he can for London and the U20 United States World Championship will certainly not hinder his development. It’s the kind of opportunity that may not be available to him in Ottawa or possibly even Belleville. The last thing the Senators want to have Tkachuk do is simply survive in the pro ranks playing conservatively in a bottom-six role.
Considering how it feels like Tkachuk will be measured against a prospect like Filip Zadina, perhaps it is best for Tkachuk starts in a non-stressful environment away from the scrutiny and dogged comparisons that will be made to his 2018 NHL Draft counterparts.
Perhaps most importantly, despite a few quiet weeks, there’s no question that the organization continues to be marred in controversy. Given the circumstances, one has to wonder whether it’s in Tkachuk’s best interests to have prolonged exposure to a dressing room that Pierre Dorion referred to as “broken” in the aftermath of the Hoffman/Karlsson fiasco.
With rumours of the players’ wavering confidence in ownership and management to deliver a winner and the lingering uncertainties facing their coaching staff and players like Karlsson, Stone or Duchene, maybe that — coupled with concerns about how competitive the team will be next year — is not the environment that you want Tkachuk to be subjected to.
Granted, maybe he can handle it and the adversity.
Hell, maybe he can be a productive player right away or maybe whatever concerns for his offensive upside exist are overstated.
Tkachuk’s a safe-floor player, but nobody knows how safely projectable his ceiling is.
What we do know is that the Senators view their product as sports entertainment. They are not just about building a Stanley Cup winner, they want to put an entertaining product on the ice and fill seats.
Tkachuk’s marketability and outlook may help the Senators sell a few extra tickets, but it should never come at the expense of doing what’s in his best interests.