Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25 2018, #4: Brady Tkachuk

The Sens’ highest pick since Spezza comes in at number four

4. Brady Tkachuk (Last year: N/A, Reader rank: 4)

Let’s get something out of the way right away: Brady Tkachuk is not Filip Zadina. Though most Senators fans wanted to see the team pick Zadina when he fell to them at fourth overall, the team decided to stick to their original plan and go with Tkachuk. Tkachuk is still a very highly-touted prospect. Most of us would’ve put Zadina exactly at this place on the list: behind the organization’s big three players of the future, ahead of everyone else. Now, since this isn’t a Red Wings prospect blog, this will be the last time Zadina gets referenced. Let’s get down to what makes Tkachuk so compelling as a prospect.

The first thing that gets Tkachuk noticed is his name. His father, Keith Tkachuk, put up 1065 points in 1201 career NHL games, while his older brother Matthew Tkachuk has put up 97 points in 144 games. Both were noted for their scoring ability and their grit, with Keith having 2219 career PIMs, while Matthew has 166 so far. Both have been described as prototypical power forwards. Matthew fell to sixth overall in the 2016 draft, but has had more of an impact at the NHL level so far than Pierre-Luc Dubois, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Olli Juolevi picked ahead of him. Some descriptions of Brady had him pegged to be even better than his brother:

He has a little more finesse to his game. Matthew and their dad could go right through the door at you, but Brady may be a little more deceptive with his skill set. But he still has the same drive and tenacity that drives him to the net — except he can also get there with an end-to-end rush. - Dan Marr, director, NHL Central Scouting

It’s possible that the Sens were more than willing to bet on him being better than his brother, and decided they could ill-afford to pass on him.

Braeden Tkachuk played his junior hockey in the St. Louis area, before getting his chances with the US National Team Development Program Juniors squad. He put up 8 points in 32 games with the USNTDP in 2015-16, then 54 points in 61 games the following year. He proceeded to Boston University, putting up 31 points (8 goals) in 40 games in his freshman season. He also showed up on the international stage, going point-per-game in each the 2015 IIHF U-17 tournament (5 points in 5 games), as captain of the gold medal-winning USA squad at the 2016 U-18 tournament (7 in 7), and at the 2018 World Juniors (9 in 7). Here’s a refresher of his play at that last tournament:

Tkachuk was probably the most controversial player coming into the 2018 draft. On the one hand, he had the size (6’3”, 192 lbs) and pedigree to get you excited. On the other hand, his scoring numbers weren’t quite what you would’ve wanted for such a high pick. For example, on the USNTDP U-18 team, Brady put up 0.89 points per game, while Matthew put up 1.47. His 31 points put him one behind last year’s 28th-overall pick Shane Bowers, who didn’t come nearly as hyped as Brady. Adding to it all was that Brady was born one day too late for the 2017 NHL entry draft, meaning that he wasn’t significantly younger than players like Bowers to explain his lack of scoring prowess. As Canucks Army put it,

...there isn’t a meaningful (offensive) statistical category where Tkachuk has separated himself from the pack. When viewed through the lens of draft analytics, Tkachuk ranks in the bottom half of the first round or lower in expected likelihood of success; expected production; expected value; and situation, era, age, and league adjusted scoring - Canucks Army

No one questions if Tkachuk is a bona fide prospect, just if he’s been slightly overrated because of his size and his name. You could find him anywhere between third and ninth on people’s projections for the 2018 NHL draft, depending on how much the writer valued intangibles.

The positives about Tkachuk are everything you’d want in a top-five prospect: skill, powerful, responsible at both ends, mature, agile, deft stick-handling, soft touch, strong physically, can score from in tight or far out, able to create his own space, deceptive with the puck. The biggest knock against him seems to be his first step and his initial acceleration. If he can work on those, it sounds like he’ll be a very versatile player.

We’ve now had the chance to see him more at Sens Development Camp, and the inimitable SensProspects (via SensChirp) gave us a bit more of a scouting report after the scrimmage:

Although he was held off the scoresheet, Brady Tkachuk showed flashes of dominant skill, great playmaking vision, and hard-nosed play throughout the game. I thought he was particularly great in the 1st period, trailing off just a bit as things went along. In both the scrimmage and tournament, he often used his size and wingspan to protect the puck for long periods of time

More recently, SensProspects had this great highlight of his forecheck + passing ability from the World Junior showcase:

And if you’re into physical highlights, SensProspects has some of those for you too.

We’re not sure where Tkachuk will end up. He signed his ELC a couple weeks ago, which means he could play in Ottawa, Belleville, or with the London Knights in the fall. Likely what will happen is he’ll stick around after training camp, get a few games with the big club, and then the team will decide if they’re burning the first year of his ELC or not for 2018-19. If not, he could get a shot to play pro for the first time in his career in the AHL, or could try to dominate in the OHL like his brother before him.

So after all of this, it’s hard to know what we have in Brady Tkachuk. On the one side, he seems to be good at nearly everything. On the other side, in the words of Peter Levi, “My concern with Tkachuk is that he’s someone useful in supporting talented players, but fourth overall picks are supposed to be the talented player.” What we do know is that he’s the 18-year-old with the most promise this team has had since Erik Karlsson or maybe even Jason Spezza. Thomas Chabot wasn’t seen as a blue-chip prospect until his draft+1 season and World Juniors performances. Tkachuk is a blue-chip prospect right now, and here’s hoping he can deliver on that promise and become a top-line winger for this team. That combination of promise and uncertainty puts him squarely at fourth in our Top 25 Under 25.

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