In the third year of Brady Tkachuk’s career he has taken another step forward. Building upon his success in 2020, Tkachuk ranks among the NHL’s very best in a number of stats. Combined with his attitude, tough physical play and the leadership he provides at such a young age, if Tkachuk can improve in a couple key areas he will undoubtedly be among the NHL’s elite.
By Zach Mulder
When you watch Tkachuk play a few things begin to stand out immediately. First is that he always seems to have the puck in dangerous situations with a chance to score. Despite only scoring 17 goals this season Tkachuk finished fourth in MoneyPuck’s expected goals with 23.6, behind only Auston Matthews and Edmonton’s dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
This is a product of mainly two things; his high shot count and the location those shots come from. In terms of putting pucks on net, Tkachuk can only be classified as elite. His 220 shots on goal were second most of any player in the league, once again behind only Matthews, and his 319 shot attempts are 10th best. Add to that the fact that the vast majority of those shots come from the slot and you have a perfect recipe for an elite goal scorer. Unfortunately for Tkuchuk and the Sens, his expected goals haven’t perfectly transitioned into actual goals.
Despite an expected 23.6 goals, Tkachuk only scored 17. The -6.6 difference between his expected goals and actual goals is the worst in the league. Nazem Kadri is the only other player lower than -6 at -6.2. This can be attributed mainly to Tkachuk’s low shooting percentage. The shooting percentage of the other nine players in the top 10 of the expected goals list sit in between 11.3 and 18.5 percent. Tkachuk is a huge outlier with a shooting percentage of only 7.7 percent. You have to scroll all the way down to Kadri at 36th on the list to find a shooting percentage lower than Tkachuk.
At the end of the day, the shooting percentage and goals scored keep Tkachuk from being undisputedly elite. His assist numbers aren’t great either at only 19, but that’s as much if not more a product of his linemates being incredibly young, neither having played a full NHL season until this year. If he can raise his shooting percentage even just 3.3 percent to 11 he would add an extra seven goals this season. That combined with a continued increase in production from his linemates would go a long way towards catapulting Tkachuk comfortably into elite status.
Shot volume and expected goals aren’t the only things that Tkachuk does at an elite level. Tkachuk also plays a tough style of hockey that wears down opponents. He led the league in hits for the 2021 season with 248. The only other player even close to him was Radko Gudas with 244. The next closest forward is Josh Archibald with 193, a full 56 hits behind. This physicality has been key in making the Senators a tough team to play against regardless of where they may be in the standings. The downside to this is that Tkachuk is still learning how to stay on the right side of the line. He has a -18 penalty minute differential when comparing drawn penalties and penalties taken. This is near the bottom of the league, but it’s also not something the Sens should be too concerned about. Many of the players with worse or the same penalty differentials are the league’s best players, including McDavid, Matthews and Nathan MackKinnon.
One of the most important factors to Tkachuk’s game is his leadership in the locker room. Every night his heart is there, and he embraces the opportunity to be a leader on a team filled with young players. You can see it on the bench and you can see it in his interviews. Tkachuk wants the responsibility that comes with the role and doesn’t shy away from big moments and tough situations. His physical play ties into this; he’s not afraid to stand up for his teammates whether that be by dropping the gloves or throwing a timely hit. Coach D.J. Smith has mentioned how Tkachuk needs to be better at picking his spots to fight, but his heart is undeniably in the right place. Even just a year ago the discussion over who the next captain of the Ottawa Senators would be started with Thomas Chabot. Now it seems like a role that Tkachuk is perfect for.
With Tkachuk entering restricted free agency this summer it will be interesting to see how his contract shapes up. Whether he signs a bridge deal or a long-term contract is anyone’s guess, but the value of that contract should absolutely reflect the fact that a lot of Canadian fans learned watching the North Division this year. Brady Tkachuk is on the verge of elite, and he’s still getting better.