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Raise the Roof: Will Brady Tkachuk be Able to Take the Next Step?

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Brady Tkachuk has been extremely unlucky in terms of actual goals scored so far: will he ever be able to take that next step?

Montreal Canadiens v Ottawa Senators Photo by Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Let me begin this article by making something very clear: I love Brady Tkachuk as he is the face of the franchise and will probably be named the next captain of the Ottawa Senators in the next few months. He has become so beloved in Ottawa that it’s hard not to want him to be in the city forever. So any analysis that paints him in a less positive light isn’t meant to make it seem as if he is unworthy of our praise.

However, I think there is an interesting question worth persuing: is Brady Tkachuk ever going to be able to take that next step offensively or is this what he is?

Don’t get me wrong, the beginning of Tkachuk’s career has been extremely impressive and he is already a leader on the team. But he has averaged 52, 51, and 53 points per 82 games in his first three seasons respectively, which is very good but not elite by any means. As a 21-year-old, he certainly has room to grow, and the narrative has always been that he will take that “next step” once the Senators become contenders and he has some better linemates. It’s a narrative that I’ve said before, and I honestly do believe that to an extent.

It’s worth looking into what we should realistically expect because Tkachuk has been one of the biggest underperformers (or unluckiest) in terms of actual goals vs. expected goals. Whether you view that as a positive (he is due for better luck) or a negative (he needs to finish his chances better) is up to you.

Since Brady entered the league in 2018, he ranks tied for 65th in goals (60), as he has the same amount as Anders Lee, Dylan Larkin, Logan Couture, Reilly Smith, and Zach Parise. He is in good company, as none of the players near him are slouches. What’s fascinating is that in that same span, he is third in expected goals at 79.89 behind just John Tavares (80.37) and Alex Ovechkin (81.68). What that essentially means is that although Tkachuk has scored 60 career goals, he should have about 80 based on the quality of chances he has had. That’s a massive difference, with 6-7 fewer goals scored per season so far.

He has by far the biggest difference between his actual goals and expected goals over the past three seasons, with the top-5 looking like this:

Biggest Underachievers Since 2018

Player Actual Goals Expected Goals Difference
Player Actual Goals Expected Goals Difference
Brady Tkachuk 60 79.89 -19.89
Wayne Simmonds 32 45.13 -13.13
Rickard Rakell 42 53.82 -11.82
Patric Hornqvist 49 60.08 -11.08
Jordan Staal 35 45.55 -10.55

Wayne Simmonds is second in terms of being the “unluckiest” or biggest “underachiever,” and I can see some similarities between him and Tkachuk. Both are power forwards who get a ton of chances in front of the net. Simmonds has had a solid career, but he only had 60 points twice, with most of his seasons being in the 45-55 point range. The worrisome thing about a Simmonds comparison is that there is a possibility that expected goals might overrate them a bit. Let me explain:

Tkachuk obviously gets a ton of chances near the goalie, and sometimes he might get two or even three “shots on goal” where he is just jamming the puck into the goalie’s pads. While it is not easy to be the pest in front of the net, it is also a bit disingenuous to treat multiple jams at the pad as multiple scoring chances, especially in some cases where there was a small chance that the puck was going in anyway. That’s not to say that Brady’s work in front of the net is bad, but I do wonder if his expected goals make him look like a potential Rocket Richard candidate when in reality, he might settle in as a 25-30 goal scorer.

And the funny thing is, 25-30 goals per season is very good, so it’d be hard to be mad at that. Tkachuk now has a career 8.7 SH%, which ranks 312th out of 375 forwards who have played at least 100 games since 2018. Even in his one season at Boston University, he had just 8 goals on 131 shots (6.11 SH%), so we’re getting to a larger sample here. The point is, we know that Brady is not scoring goals because of his finesse—he’s scoring them because of the sheer volume he is producing.

In addition, out of the top 78 skaters in expected goals since 2018, just Jeff Carter, Mikael Backlund, Nazem Kadri, Rickard Rakell, Tyler Seguin, Patric Hornqvist, Anders Lee, Andrei Svechnikov, and Brady Tkachuk have underperformed what their expected numbers say. That means of the top 78 offensive players, 88% of them have been at least better than average at finishing their chances. And the other eight aren’t even in the same stratosphere as Tkachuk in terms of a disparity between actual vs. expected, so there has to be something different going on with his goal scoring and his statistics.

But that’s okay because scoring is not his bread and butter anyway!

On the bright side, the Senators are only going to get better from here on out. His most common linemates in 2019-20 were JG Pageau and Anthony Duclair—good players, but not first-line calibre. This year it was Josh Norris and Drake Batherson, who both had great seasons, but they will continue to improve or the Senators will have someone else leapfrog them on the first line, so I can’t see a scenario where Tkachuk has worse linemates than he has had recently (as long as you forget Mark Stone exists, let’s not talk about that).

With an improved Tkachuk (who is still only 21) plus Josh Norris or perhaps someone from the draft like Kent Johnson as Ottawa’s first-line centre, it’s easy to imagine Tkachuk getting set up for more plays and being able to score easier. I certainly think he’s capable of being a 60-70 point player based on the improvement of the team, but I’m not so sure he will ever match his expected goal totals. I’ve touted his totals before, hoping they would eventually lead to something, but after three seasons, I feel quite confident in saying that Tkachuk will never be as good of a scorer as the expected goals say, which is a big reason why you always need context when analyzing these statistics.

Some may talk about his assists potentially increasing, and I think they will, but considering how much time he spends in front of the net, he’s never really had to be an elite playmaker. His career-high in assists is 23 (on pace for 27), so there is still room for improvement in terms of becoming an elite player.

At the same time, he is still easily a franchise player to build around and he is absolutely the right player to have on this team. Goals are not everything anyway, so as long as we don’t expect Brady to be a 40-goal scorer, he’ll be fine. Defining the “next step” is different for everyone, so it will be difficult to say whether he ever reaches that or not. Personally, I’d like to see some improvement in the defensive end instead. At the end of the day, Brady is a very fun player to watch and I’m extremely happy that he’s a Senator.

Just make sure to not expect him to be a point-per-game player.