The Other Ka-Chuck: An Update On Blues’ Prospect Daniel Tkaczuk

By Larry Deutsch
As the 2001 NHL trade deadline drew near, a call to action was issued by St. Louis Blues fans to oft-maligned general manager, Larry Pleau. From the online forums, to the call-in radio programs, and even to Pleau’s e-mail inbox, their message was overwhelming, “Get us Tkachuk or get out of town!” And he managed to land the big fish, outbidding several suitors so fans could see Captain Coyote don the Blue Note. On the eve of the NHL entry draft, Pleau acquired center Daniel (also pronounced “ka-chuk”) from Calgary in a deal that sent stumbling netminder Roman Turek charging toward the Stampede City. In a matter of just three months, the Blues went from being utterly “ka-chuck”-less to cornering the market on the NHL’s active “ka-chucks.”

The latter Tkaczuk, who turns 22 in October, hails from the Toronto
suburb of Mississauga, Ontario. He played his junior hockey for the Barrie Colts, and at the age of 17 was the OHL’s youngest captain during the 97-98 season. He currently holds the Colt franchise records for total career points, goals, assists, short-handers, and game-winners. Chosen sixth overall in the 97 draft, Daniel felt plenty of pressure to step in quicky for the Flames and lead them back into the postseason. Tkaczuk confused the Calgary brass with his flashes of brilliance at the lower levels tempered by mediocre showings during his many call-ups. Frustrated with his lack of production at the NHL level, this cerebral center kept a positive outlook toward his relegation to the minors. Bouncing back from a late season concussion, Dan was absolutely dominant in the AHL playoffs, collecting 19 points in 14 games. Even more impressive was his virtuoso finals performance, exploding for 10 points in the 6 game series and leading the St. John Flames to their first ever Calder Cup.

Deliciously ironic in retrospect, a frazzled Tkazcuk told Mark Miller of the Calgary Sun in a January 2001 interview, “A guy like Cory Stillman was a slow starter as well, but is one of the great contributors on this (Flames) club and one of the front-line guys in the NHL now. Hopefully, I can model myself after a guy like that. You have to keep the belief that if you keep working hard, good things will happen. I’ve stayed true to that belief and I think it will work out for Daniel Tkaczuk.” [Tkaczuk Proving He’s Earned Spot With Flames – Calgary Sun] Along with diminutive netminder Fred Braithwaite and St. John sniper Sergei Varlamov, Dan will be reunited with Stillman at Blues training camp this summer in Alaska. With his development under the microscope, the pivot prospect has yet to make the big club out of camp. Flames GM Craig Button, who hoped the first-rounder would develop into a star right out of junior hockey, used this reasoning to sell
the trade to fans in Calgary.

By all indications, there are no obvious flaws in his game. Physically, Tkaczuk is a good skater, with great hands, and has NHL size at 6’1″ 195 pounds. Daniel is a consummate student of the game, with outstanding hockey sense and a knack for positioning, be it in the offensive or the defensive zone. However, there have been a great number of players who excel at the minor league level, yet appear a step slow against the big boys. In the Blues system alone, Eric Boguniecki, Mike Peluso, and Dan Trebil all suffer from this “minor” setback. Like any prospect, until Daniel Tkaczuk is able to stick with the Blues, his value to the organization will remain in question.

Although he has baffled his coaches before, Tkaczuk will be given
ample opportunity to earn a permanent spot with the Blues. Without a
natural center behind newly blue Doug Weight, the position is ripe for the picking by any pivot in the system. For now Pleau plans to rely on a leaky “center by committee” system, in which assorted wingers such as Jamal Mayers, Cory Stillman, and Pavol Demitra will occupy the spot. Most important to his contention for this spot, Tkaczuk is defensively
responsible, has a solid work ethic, and is a leader on and off the ice.
Coach Joel Quenneville tends to embrace players demonstrating attributes
and will no doubt give Daniel a chance to prove himself. Although he
wasn’t able to stick around with the Flames mediocre core of centermen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dan spend significant time in St. Louis this season.