Florida Panthers superstar Matthew Tkachuk remains one of the favorites to win the Hart Trophy.
Coming off of an impressive 109-point campaign in his first season in Sunrise — one that netted him third place in Hart Trophy voting last year — he is once again expected to be amongst the NHL’s most valuable players.
Tkachuk added 11 goals and 24 points in 20 playoff games during the Panthers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last year — scoring four game-winning goals along the way including three in the Eastern Conference finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Needless to say, he was a big driver in getting them to the NHL’s biggest stage.
“That guy is a — and then you put a long string of profanity — gamer,” coach Paul Maurice said after the first of his game-winning goals in Game 5 of their first-round series against Boston. “Is he not a gamer?
“I got to see him a lot in Calgary when I was in Winnipeg and it drove me crazy how he could just, out of nowhere, pull a puck across. What, are there 700 guys in the league? Maybe 640 jam that thing as fast as they can and lose it. He just pulls it across. He’s just a … gamer.
“Use your own words. Use Xs.’’
That just about sums up his value to the team.
Going into the season, Tkachuk had the second-best odds to win be the NHL’s most valuable player at 10/1.
Following a slow start to the season — one which saw him put up just a goal and six assists in his first eight games — his odds have fallen to 20/1.
He now sits with the eighth best odds to win the Hart Trophy.
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It took Tkachuk until the Panthers’ seventh game of the season to score his first goal of the season after scoring 40 goals last year.
Maurice did not express much concern when he finally scored in Florida’s 3-2 win over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday.
“He understands his game,” Maurice said after the game. “He is point-per-game with assists, which isn’t his normal rate, but he knew it was coming. I think he’s so used to playing with Sam Bennett, it takes those guys a while [to get chemistry] but that tip is how he scores so many of his goals. It was good that he got back to feeling good about them.”
Despite the slow start, Tkachuk remains on the board as a Rocket Richard Trophy candidate to lead the NHL in goals at +2500.
He ranks 12th, with Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews looming as the favorite to win the award.
Teammate Sam Reinhart did not earn his way onto the board despite scoring eight goals in the team’s first eight games.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS @ DETROIT RED WINGS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
- Streaming/TV: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL/Panthers App
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- This season: @Detroit Thursday, March 2; @Florida Jan. 17, March 30
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 36-19-6, 5 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday @ Chicago, 8 p.m.