Ever snce last summer’s blockbuster trade to the Florida Panthers for forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, 25-year-old left wing Matthew Tkachuk has had big shoes to fill.
Huberdeau left a giant spot in South Florida fans’ hearts, but Tkachuk, who was happy to leave the Calgary Flames, took no time in capturing that spot.
Fresh from an MVP performance in the All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena, and within striking distance of helping the Panthers secure an Eastern Conference playoff spot, Tkachuk has been everything Panthers GM Bill Zito could have hoped when he acquired the superstar on July 22.
Although he’s only been at Sunrise’s arena for a few months, his impact is felt up and down the roster. Look no further than his captain, Aleksander Barkov, who often plays on the same line with Tkachuk.
“It’s awesome (having Tkachuk as a teammate), the craziest thing is that I’ve known him for four months and it feels like I’ve known him for 10 years,” Barkov said at the All-Star Game. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing; he’s a tremendous player, unbelievable character, both on the ice and off the ice.”
Barkov and Tkachuk were the Panthers’ lone All-Star representatives on a weekend that the 29-year franchise was allowed the opportunity to show how far its come. Tkachuk is helping that mission, and before the All-Star game, Barkov mentioned what he brings to the club.
“He’s a big leader for us, he’s doing all the right things and leading the guys on the ice and off of it,” he said. “Bringing everyone together, bringing the team together; there’s only good things to say about him.”
When asked about playing as a host, Tkachuk could only focus on what it meant for him to play on home ice.
“To be honest, I really didn’t care about anything other than representing my team and it’s a big honor to be one of the representatives along with Barky to be the host city,” Tkachuk said. “So, no pressure with it, but definitely felt (the honor).”
Barkov and Tkachuk seemingly form the backbone of the roster, and the Panthers made sure to secure the pair. Both are locked in by eight-year deals, with the goal of keeping them under contract playing for the Panthers through the 2029-2030 season.
Now, the plan is to get back into the second season, a year after Florida was the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. Florida is in a battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings for one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card berths.
The Cats play the Sabres tonight at 7 p.m. in Broward.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Florida Panther,” Barkov said.