About a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece on why I thought the Ottawa Senators should make Mark Stone their captain. If you don’t feel like reliving that brief glimmer of hope, the gist of it was that Stone was one of, if not the best player on Ottawa’s roster, as well as being the emotional heart and soul of the team. His elite ability and the fire that he played with would have made Stone an easy choice had he not been traded.
But we all know how that turned out, and this coming September 13th will mark two years since the Senators last had a captain. There are a few worthy candidates, demonstrating immense talent, leadership, and in some cases both, but for my money, there is one player who demonstrates such a rare combination of skill and intangibles that he is the lights-out choice to wear the ‘C’ for the Sens.
Brady Tkachuk will turn 21 this September, just three days after the anniversary of the Erik Karlsson trade. This would obviously make him the youngest captain in Senators’ history; a fact underlined by his only having played the bulk of two seasons. Daniel Alfredsson was 27, and had already been through three playoff appearances before the honour was bestowed upon him.
What the young Tkachuk lacks in experience, however, he makes up for in skill. A couple weeks ago, we took a look at his stats and advanced metrics after two seasons; Brady is producing at a level the likes of which we have rarely seen in Ottawa. Add that to the fact that he likely still has yet to peak and hit his physical prime, and you have a player that it is more than talented enough to captain a team.
In terms of leadership and heart, it’s absolutely no contest. Despite being so young, and in the absence of elite players like Stone and Matt Duchene, Brady Tkachuk put the Senators on his back, and has been the hardest working player on the ice, night in and night out. Even in games where his team wasn’t performing up to par, Brady did his best to will them back into the fight. And when he couldn’t, he did his best to take no prisoners.
Some may see Tkachuk slamming his stick as a sign of immaturity, and letting his emotions get the better of him. To me, it has the markings of a kid who cares. Tkachuk is competitive, he absolutely hates to lose with every fibre of his being, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. If you watched the game in question, you know that he was undoubtedly Ottawa’s best player, and the frustration never took him off his game.
This is a guy who takes things personally. Since Stone was shipped off to Vegas, Tkachuk has taken responsibility for this team — seemingly inheriting it from his mentor. He not only does his part to help his guys win games, but protects them when teams take liberties. This is Tkachuk’s team, and he knows it.
When the Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton was taking liberties on the Senators (including a headshot on Jean-Gabriel Pageau that wasn’t called), and taunted their bench after scoring a goal, all while unable to fight due to a hand injury, Tkachuk went after him in defence of his team. Obviously, within the confines of the rules, I can’t condone this. That said, think about what that meant to the guys on the bench.
The Senators were out of the game in its waning moments, and Tkachuk took it upon himself to let Laughton, and the Flyers, know that they would not be disrespected, win or lose. He let them know that while the Senators may go down on the scoreboard, they will not go quietly. They will be remembered the next day.
The main counterargument espoused by those who don’t want Tkachuk to captain the Senators, funnily enough, is the exact reasons that I’ve listed above. They believe that because of his fiery persona, and tendency to get in people’s faces and throw hands, that he needs freedom to do so. The idea is that putting the ‘C’ on Tkachuk’s chest would require him to tone down his patented shit-disturbery, and focus on leading by example.
I would like to pose, however, that Brady’s unique combination of grit, tenacity, and skill is exactly why he should be the captain of the Senators. D.J. Smith’s squad is in a unique position as of right now. They are in the beginning stages of a team forging their own identity, and thus far it’s been a team that works their asses off every game, in spite of the circumstances or the match-up.
If you want to build an identity, one of a team that has no problem getting in your face, and laughs at you while they run up the score, who better to lead you than Tkachuk? He draws far more penalties than he takes, so if you craft a team of guys that get under other teams’ skin, then the skilled players that Ottawa has — and will have — get more opportunities to fill other teams’ nets with pucks.
Let’s think about this for a second. Who in the Atlantic Division has a captain like Tkachuk? From John Tavares, to Shea Weber, to Zdeno Chara, there isn’t a team that rallies behind a player who is able to simultaneously agitate, produce, and get his hands dirty. Even Brad Marchand isn’t the same type of player, nor is he the true leader of the Boston Bruins.
Tkachuk is going to be one of, if not the face of the Ottawa Senators for years to come. His personality and skillset is one that is unique in today’s NHL. He is a player that every team in the league will want, but none can have. The Senators should own that. They have a rare opportunity to forge their own team identity that will define them for the foreseeable future.
Tkachuk is a player that, regardless of what the scoreboard says, will live and die for his team, and fight to the bitter end. He is a player that is willing to do whatever it takes to win hockey games, and protect the honour and pride of his team. I can’t think of a player more suited to lead the Ottawa Senators.
Make Tkachuk who you are. Let him define you. It will pay off.
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