The Florida Panthers took a big swing to get Matthew Tkachuk from the Flames in the offseason and it could hardly have worked out better so far.
The whole league took notice, too. Tkachuk is one of three finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Tkachuk, 25, scored 40 goals and set a new career high with 109 points in the regular season, willing the Panthers into the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs after they sat nine points out of a wild card after Christmas.
Oilers superstar Connor McDavid and Bruins superstar David Pastrnak are the two other finalists for the Hart Trophy, which is given out annually to the NHL’s most valuable player and voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Although Tkachuk’s production doesn’t quite match those two 60-goal scorers, the superstar right wing was probably as valuable to his team as just about anyone, as evidenced both by the regular season and now the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In the regular season, no other player for Florida scored even 80 points — All-Star center Aleksander Barkov was second with 78 points in 68 games — and Tkachuk was at his best during the final stretch of the season, recording 30 points in the final 19 games to lead the Panthers to 12 wins and a playoff spot.
In the Cup playoffs, Tkachuk ranked third with 17 points entering Friday and scored 14 in Florida’s first-round upset of Boston.
Although Hart voting is conducted before the playoffs, the All-Star winger is further proving his value now. The bold trade to get him last year has been a smashing success.
As well as the trade is working out now, it wasn’t an easy decision for general manager Bill Zito to make. The Panthers shipped away star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau — at the time, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer — and star defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, as well as a future first-round pick, to pluck Tkachuk out of Calgary, then signed him to a massive eight-year extension despite him only having cracked 80 points once in his career.
Now, the American forward has done it twice in a row, and transformed Florida through his fiery personality and style of play. The Panthers are in the middle of their deepest playoff run since they went to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals in only their third season of existence.
“I would’ve never imagined a young man of his age to sort of carry the amount of maturity and emotional intelligence, and social awareness and just basically he’s a very kind individual. And these are all pleasant surprises,” owner Vincent Viola said last week. “Matthew has been a leader in the community, a leader in the dressing room and he’s quickly become the face of the franchise.”