With EA Sports about to release details on its upcoming NHL 24 video game on August 16, the battle over who should be on the cover athlete has been a hot debate — and Florida Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk is right in the thick of it.
After the season he just had, is there any other choice?
Tkachuk is now among the NHL’s most recognizable stars after a memorable season in South Florida.
Not only did Tkachuk put up 109 points in the regular season to finish third in Hart Trophy voting as the league’s most valuable player, but he dragged his team — one which barely made the postseason — all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
And Tkachuk did so in style.
Tkachuk’s 11-goal and 24-point postseason was not complete without a staggering four game-winning goals and iconic moments like the “Bus in 10” celebration following a 4-OT victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
His knee-slide celebration when he sent the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final with four seconds left in Game 4 all but put him over the top.
Either of those visuals would be a great choice to put on a game cover.
Tkachuk’s accolades also fall in line with some of the previous NHL stars who have graced the game’s cover.
Prior to EA Sports’ historic move to place women’s hockey star Sarah Nurse and Anaheim Ducks phenom Trevor Zegras on the cover of NHL 23, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, P.K. Subban and Connor McDavid each earned their nods after earning Hart Trophy consideration or having a deep playoff run.
Tkachuk accomplished both of those things last season — not to mention winning MVP honors at the All-Star Game held in Sunrise.
He has been one of the most consistent and recognizable players in the league for the past few seasons on top of that.
The 6-foot-2 power forward has picked up a reputation on the ice as an agitator who gets under the opponent’s skin with some fun trash talk to boot. But off the ice, it’s a different story.
In his time away from the rink Tkachuk could be seen joking around with Charles Barkley before a Heat game on TNT or flaunting a bucket hat during All-Star weekend while showing off his new home in Fort Lauderdale to his fellow NHL stars.
When it comes to production, Tkachuk is a star.
Since the shortened 2020-21 season, Tkachuk ranks seventh in points (256) and 14th in goals (98).
He is one point shy of Matthews, who picked up a Hart Trophy in that span when he scored 60 goals the same year he graced the cover of NHL 22.
His 34 playoff points are good for 11th in the NHL in that span despite not making it out of the first round until his final year in Calgary.
There are some other stars with great cases to land on the cover of NHL 24, notably young New Jersey Devils star Jack Hughes.
Many fans are lobbying for the 22-year-old after a breakout 98-point season which saw him lead the Devils to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
Nathan MacKinnon, who has arguably been the league’s second-best player for over half a decade, has not gotten his chance to be on the cover either.
But there is no better time to capitalize on what Tkachuk has done for hockey in South Florida this season.
His charisma and knack for showing up in big moments have helped bring sold-out crowds back to Sunrise and those iconic moments have made him stick out as one of the best American players in the league.
Tkachuk would join John Vanbiesbrouck (NHL 97) as the second Panther to earn that honor.
(Former Panther and current TV analyst Randy Moller made a cameo on NHLPA Hockey 93’s cover in a Rangers uniform, serving up a crosscheck to Flyers star Rod Brind’Amour.)
Tkachuk has certainly earned it indeed after the season he had.
Hughes, while an incredibly marketable player adjacent to the New York market, has plenty of time to earn his spot on a cover.
Perhaps even next season.
At 27, MacKinnon still has plenty of time to be given his flowers as well.
But looking past McDavid’s incredible 153-point, Hart Trophy-winning campaign, Tkachuk was one of the league’s most impactful — and iconic — players during the 2022-23 season.
Put the man on the cover.
It’ll look good.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
- Now: Free agency period is open
- Mid-September: Training Camp, South Florida
- Sept. 25: Preseason starts; Doubleheader v. Nashville @ Sunrise
- Oct. 7: Preseason ends; v. Tampa Bay Lightning @ Sunrise
- Oct. 12: Start of 2023-24 Regular Season at Minnesota Wild
- Oct. 19: 2023-24 Home Opener vs. Toronto Maple Leafs