2. Brady Tkachuk (Last year: 2, reader rank: 2)
To say that Brady Tkachuk is loved by the Ottawa fanbase would be a massive understatement. He is absolutely adored to a level that might trump franchise greats like Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, and even Daniel Alfredsson because for some strange reason, those three always had their detractors. Almost everyone loved them too, but with Brady it feels like there is never anything bad to say about him. Once the Senators become a playoff team too, there’s a chance he’ll reach a whole different level.
You can’t blame people for getting excited about a player that is the complete package: he can score, hit, defend, fight, and is a leader on the team despite his tender age of 21. It’s no surprise that many fans want to see him become the next captain of the Ottawa Senators due to his leadership abilities. Even if Thomas Chabot is awarded ‘C’, there is no doubt Tkachuk will remain an important leader.
Tkachuk’s 44 points in 71 games in 2019-20 were not an improvement on the 45 he notched in 71 games in his rookie season, but take a deeper look: maintaining that level of production despite losing Mark Stone as a line-mate should not be discounted. His two most common linemates this past season were Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Connor Brown; two very capable players who also don’t bring the first-line skills that would befit Tkachuk’s abilities.
Tkachuk’s scoring is quite good, if not elite just yet. However, with more experience as well as some better line-mates such as potentially Tim Stuetzle, Evgenii Dadonov, perhaps Drake Batherson, there’s no reason to believe he can’t turn into a 70-point winger who is a jack-of-all-trades. He is already elite in a few categories including expected goals (because he is always around the net getting chances) and drawing penalties:
From @IneffectiveMath's presentation on penalties. Here are the best guys in the NHL at drawing penalties. I have no idea how that heart got there next to Brady Tkachuk's name. #ISOLHAC pic.twitter.com/55v3YXkEER— Hannah (@hburrito92) May 9, 2020
It’s easy to think about a much better centre such as Stuetzle feeding him the puck so he can actually finish his chances...In fact, here is a sneak peek without the finish:
Brady Tkachuk buries this. pic.twitter.com/seRa4RQK1g— SensChirp (@SensChirp) October 9, 2020
If some better linemates can get him 20 more points per season, Tkachuk might become a God in the city of Ottawa.
It is quite incredible to think about the 180 that the fanbase has done with Tkachuk after the Senators drafted him in 2018 because at the time, there were legitimate concerns that he wasn’t going to be good enough and that they had wasted the 4th overall pick. Now, I think the list of players that fans would trade Tkachuk for straight up is in the single digits.
He defied the odds based on historically comparable players; this thread from Byron Bader shows how remarkable Tkachuk’s ascent really is. In short, Brady did not profile as a successful NHLer based on his pre-draft production, but since getting his shot in the NHL he he has completely bucked the trend and now looks like a star who is only going to get better. It’s funny how that works sometimes, and kudos to the Senators scouting staff for seeing something more in him than was apparent at first glance.
What’s great about Tkachuk is that he will likely end up being very versatile throughout his career. He has the potential to be an elite first-line player, but if Stuetzle ends up staying at left wing, Tkachuk could just as easily play a secondary role where he isn’t expected to create as much offensively and perhaps won’t be under quite as much pressure.
It’s no secret that he is an impending RFA this summer, the elephant in the room as it were. His next contract is of the utmost importance because a long-term deal, say 6 or 8 years, would immediately bring more legitimacy to the rebuild. If it turns out to be a bridge contract like his brother Matthew took though, then it’ll be a bit disheartening to see either one or both sides being non-committal. He needs to be convinced that Ottawa is where he should stay — and the Sens should be doing everything in their power to keep him around.