CORAL SPRINGS — The vast majority of Matthew Tkachuk’s new teammates with the Florida Panthers do not have fond memories of playing against him.
With Tkachuk’s unique ability to get under his opponents’ skin by playing physical while also possessing elite offensive skills, it is easy to see why they did not like playing against him.
“I think he pisses you off,’’ Sam Reinhart said, “because he’s good.’’
“I would have thought ‘pain in the ass’,” coach Paul Maurice added.
The Panthers have two players who enjoyed Tkachuk as a teammate back in their days with the Calgary Flames in Ryan Lomberg and Sam Bennett.
Although Lomberg only shared 11 games with Tkachuk while he was battling for a spot with the Flames, Bennett and Tkachuk go back quite a bit further.
Bennett was alongside Tkachuk when he made his NHL debut in 2016 and the two played together until Bennett was traded to Florida at the 2021 deadline.
Lomberg signed as a free agent with the Panthers before the 2021 season.
Tkachuk and Bennett were on three playoff teams in Calgary together, losing in the first round each time — although the 2020 Flames did move past the qualifying round during the bubble playoffs before falling to the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Stars.
They reunite on a team very different from the young Flames team Bennett left when he was dealt to Florida that following season.
Tkachuk joins a Florida team sporting a massive chip on its shoulder after getting swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers showed they can be a dominant team after winning the Presidents’ Trophy and scoring the most goals in an NHL season since 1996.
Quite frankly, Bennett is fired up that Tkachuk is back on his side in attempt at making another playoff run — this time in sunny South Florida.
“It’s exciting to get to play with him again,” Bennett said. “As soon as I heard about the trade, he was the first person I FaceTimed. He is fun.
“You can really see how much he gets under guys’ skin when you’re playing with him. He’s a pain in the ass out there, but for us, it’s a lot of fun to play with him. He makes room and he can really get guys off their game. He’s one of the best I’ve seen at doing that, so he is a huge asset.”
It was apparent the rest of the team caught on with that sentiment pretty quickly.
From the moment Tkachuk stepped on the ice, he was adding extra flavor with his elite puckhandling skills, dekeing goalies out of their skates and garnering some “Woos!” from his teammates.
And, in that first practice of training camp, Bennett and Tkachuk were paired together once again during line rushes.
The two have played on a line together in the past and their styles of play compliment each other fairly well.
Tkachuk’s brute power on the puck and exceptional playmaking ability open up the space Bennett needs to use his own physicality to make plays at the front of the net.
Maurice will be tinkering with the lines throughout training camp, but if this combination sticks, it will be sure to piss its opponents off.