Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan briefly overlapped with center Ryan Kesler when each was with the Vancouver Canucks; Gulutzan was an assistant and Kesler had not yet been traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
Gulutzan chuckled about how Kesler embraced his inner villain and seemed to relish the booing. "He loves it," Gulutzan said.
An obvious question followed. Does anyone on the Flames remind him of Kesler?
"There's a young guy coming up who's got some of the same traits," Gulutzan said, grinning. "I won't mention any names."
He didn't need to.
Hello, Flames rookie forward Matthew Tkachuk, 19, and the seeming heir apparent to Kesler's black-hat approach, unafraid to mix it up against anyone at almost any time, leading the Flames with 105 penalty minutes this season.
"He's definitely not scared out there," linemate Michael Frolik said.
Tkachuk, who was fifth among the Flames in scoring with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists), is at the forefront of the wave of young talent helping transform the League this season.
Now, Tkachuk is preparing for his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It's quite a story: From winning the Memorial Cup to chasing the NHL title a year later. Next will be handling the rise in play and emotion in the postseason.
"He's done the opposite of most rookies," Flames TV analyst Kelly Hrudey said. "Most rookies start off really well and then their play declines. To me, it's been the opposite. He's continued to get better all season long."
Gulutzan kept bracing for the other skate to drop.
"I'm waiting for all these junior habits to come," he said. "They never came. They were there in rookie camp and the moment he got here, they were gone."
Tkachuk looked like the notion of hitting the rookie wall was an alien concept when it was presented to him. Then again, hockey is the family business for the Tkachuks. His father, Keith, played 1,201 regular-season NHL games.
"I don't think about hitting a wall or having stretches of great play," Matthew said. "You just go into every day with the same mindset. You work as hard every day and you work the same and try to push yourself even harder and harder when it gets to this part of the year."
Said Flames forward Kris Versteeg: "He's a polished professional at 19 years old. I haven't seen many guys that play as hard and make as many pro plays at that age.
"It's pretty remarkable. He's been taught by his dad his whole life. That's probably a huge part of it."
Tkachuk was suspended on March 20 for two games for elbowing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty in the head. The conventional wisdom was he learned from the encounter and subsequent fallout after he ripped Doughty in the media.
"Maybe he shouldn't have talked about Doughty that way," Hrudey said. "But the other thing, if you turn it around, here's a guy so engaged and so involved in the game.
"I'd rather have that, talk him down, as opposed to find a way to motivate him."
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