SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers sent shockwaves through the NHL on Friday night when they completed a huge trade by sending franchise star Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Cole Schwindt to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk.
Out goes Florida’s franchise leader in points, assists and games played.
In comes Tkachuk — a 24-year-old power forward coming off of a 104-point season.
A lot to live up to, eh?
“I don’t feel pressure, I’m here to win,” Tkachuk said on Monday afternoon.
“Personal stuff, throw it out the door. I don’t care. I’m here to be the last team standing, that’s it. So if I am, I’m happy, I don’t care about the personal stuff, I’m not comparing myself to anybody.”
In a way, there is no comparing Tkachuk to anybody.
Both on and off the ice.
On the ice, Tkachuk has been heralded as the NHL’s ‘unicorn,’ presenting a unique ability to do just about anything you ask.
He scores goals, makes tough passes, and, most importantly, Tkachuk gets under the opposing team’s skin.
Off the ice, he carries a type of attitude South Florida loves.
Think Miami Hurricanes, Dan Marino, Dwyane Wade.
“I have a different personality,” Tkachuk said. “The way that I play, I bring a certain swagger that can really help this team on and off the ice.
“You look at a guy like Sasha Barkov, who from the outside looks like one of the best captains in the league. He leads with example and a quiet confidence. I’m almost like the other way. I’m not quiet.”
Tkachuk brings a face the Panthers have desperately needed since their inception in 1993 and brings an injection to one of hockey’s most trending rivalries: The Battle of Florida.
In his time in Calgary, he strived during the heralded ‘Battle of Alberta.’
In 28 games against the Oilers, Tkachuk has nine goals and 23 points.
He has also talked some big-time trash.
Most notably, he got into it with Oilers forward Zach Kassian after the two participated in a brawl this season.
“We’ll take the power play, we’ll take the game-winner, and we’ll move on to first place,” Tkachuk said.
That is the type of confidence that Tkachuk brings to the table.
And now he is redirecting it to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I hate Edmonton, but now I hate Tampa more,” he said.
And he is going to be hating them for a long time.
Just before he was traded to the Panthers, Tkachuk agreed to an eight-year extension worth $9.5 million annually.
When the then-restricted free agent was getting traded, he had a lot of power over where he wanted to go.
And ultimately, Florida was his choice.
“I want to be here,” he said. “This isn’t me wanting to get traded and having no say. I chose this. I really want this to work. I’m really excited about the possibility of winning in South Florida.”
Tkachuk gave two reasons for why he chose Florida: Winning and lifestyle.
And winning came first.
“When I made the list, first and foremost, it was about winning,” Tkachuk said. “It was not just winning now, but it was winning in the future. All the guys are from my age to 28, 29, that was first and foremost a very attractive part for me is the win-now mode and the win in the future.”
The lifestyle part came second, and with that lifestyle came the willingness to grow the brand of the team.
“From what I’ve seen, since I came to Florida in 2016, my rookie year, it’s grown a lot,” Tkachuk said. “I’m excited for the chance to get to grow the game down here.
“I hope that in a few years nobody on the team can walk outside without somebody saying something to them like how it is in some of the other places around the league. I think that winning definitely helps that.
“We’ll take care of it on the ice and I’m sure it’s going to attract the next wave of Florida hockey players, and that’s a really big goal of mine as well.”
Gone are the days when players passed up on Florida and looked at it as a ‘retirement home.’
Now, Tkachuk looks to be the face of it all.