‘I used to be the happiest particular person ever’

Sporting the Florida Panthers brand on his chest for the primary time on Monday, Matthew Tkachuk couldn’t assist however put on a large grin, too, as his new membership unveiled its newly-signed star winger.

“Very surreal. It hasn’t absolutely sunk in but, if I’m being sincere with you,” Tkachuk informed the media from FLA Dwell Enviornment Monday, in his first press convention as a Panther. “It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable waking up right here. You simply get that little bit extra pleasure understanding the place you might be.”

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 24-year-old winger. Simply this previous April, the Scottsdale native clinched his first 100-point marketing campaign in his sixth NHL season, earlier than his Calgary Flames launched into a wild two-round playoff run. Then got here July, and the information that linemate Johnny Gaudreau can be leaving Calgary to signal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Quickly after that information broke, phrase got here that Tkachuk was transferring on from Calgary, too.

After working with Flames GM Brad Treliving to attempt to facilitate a deal that might profit each he and the group that drafted him into the massive leagues, Tkachuk heard the information of his subsequent vacation spot not too lengthy earlier than the remainder of the hockey world did.

“I bought a name from my uncle (Craig Oster), who’s the perfect agent on the planet — he known as me Friday within the afternoon. … He stated, ‘We’d have one thing achieved with Florida.’ I used to be the happiest particular person ever,” Tkachuk stated, recapping how the deal materialized late final week. “He stated, ‘Don’t inform anyone.’ I went to my dad and mom resort room, informed them. After which [I was] simply enthusiastic about the whole lot, logistics — I stated, ‘We are able to’t say something, don’t need to jinx it.’”

Later that evening, whereas the Tkachuks had been out for dinner, the brand new contract got here by means of and No. 19 formally grew to become a Panther.

Talking with Sportsnet’s Eric Francis on Saturday, Tkachuk make clear how troublesome the choice to depart Calgary was, on the recollections and the buddies he’s forsaking. On Monday, he elaborated on why the attract of Florida pulled him away from the membership he started his NHL profession with.

“After I made the checklist [of teams], firstly it was successful,” Tkachuk stated. “It was not simply successful now however it was successful sooner or later. … All the fellows are from my age to twenty-eight, 29, or the bulk are. In order that was firstly a really engaging half for me, is the win-now mode and the win-in-the-future. Quantity two is way of life — I’m 24 and I had six unbelievable years in Calgary and it was the perfect place for me to be at the moment. Trying forward, I signed for eight years, however in my thoughts I’m right here for eight-plus. So nevertheless many who’ll be, I need to be right here for the remainder of my profession. And quantity three, I believe they’ve a bunch of elite gamers that I can play with and be surrounded by.

“I need to be right here. Like, this wasn’t me simply getting traded and me having no say — I selected this. I really need this to work, and I’m simply excited for the potential for successful right here in South Florida.”

Whereas a lot of Tkachuk’s determination was tied to the truth that the Panthers have change into one of many recreation’s most harmful golf equipment — taking one other step in 2021-22 with a dominant common season that noticed Florida declare the Presidents’ Trophy — there was additionally a bigger-picture cause for the transfer Stateside, the winger defined.

The possibility to assist the sport proceed to develop in South Florida.

“I used to be born in Arizona, grew up in St. Louis — each, on the time, weren’t the Minnesotas, Michigans, Bostons, not the large hockey markets. And from what I’ve seen, even since I got here to play Florida in 2016, my rookie 12 months, it’s grown loads,” Tkachuk stated. “I believe one of many issues I will help [is], you already know, on the ice, I’ve a distinct persona, the best way I play. I carry a sure swagger that I believe will actually assist this workforce. And off-ice, I’ve the identical persona. So I believe that I’m excited for the possibility to get to develop the sport down right here.

“I hope that, in a number of years, no one on the workforce can stroll outdoors with out any person saying one thing to them, sort of like it’s in a number of the different locations across the league. I believe that successful undoubtedly helps that, so we’ll maintain it on the ice, and I’m positive it’s going to draw the following wave of Florida hockey gamers. That’s a very massive objective of mine as effectively.”

For the Panthers trustworthy, the thrill of Tkachuk’s arrival is tempered by the frustration of shedding a franchise icon in Jonathan Huberdeau, together with top-pairing defender MacKenzie Weegar — two key items that performed a large function in serving to the workforce attain the heights it did final season.

However whereas comparisons will certainly be made between the workforce’s new star winger and the one who beforehand made waves on Aleksander Barkov’s wing, Tkachuk made clear he isn’t coming to Florida to be the brand new Huberdeau.

“I don’t really feel it,” he stated of the stress of changing a participant with a legacy like Huberdeau’s in Florida. “I’m a distinct sort of participant. One other man that was traded in that [deal] was Weegar, who’s an unbelievable participant as effectively — I carry various things than what these guys carry, I believe.

“I don’t really feel stress. I’m right here to win. Private stuff, throw it out the door, I don’t care. I’m right here to be the final workforce standing. That’s it. … I don’t care in regards to the private stuff. I’m not evaluating myself to anyone.”

If his new followers wanted a primary style of what Tkachuk figures to carry to his new squad, he supplied a glimpse when requested in regards to the Panthers’ cross-state rival, the one coming off three straight Cup Remaining appearances. Whereas he was diplomatic in his reward for the perennial contender Tampa Bay Lightning, the latest Panther made positive to fireside an early shot, too, drawing on his half-decade of Battle of Alberta expertise to stir the pot.

“I hate Edmonton,” Tkachuk stated, “however I hate Tampa extra now.”

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