It's not quite playoff time yet, but don't tell that to Matthew Tkachuk.
Late in the first period of Calgary's 5-2 win over the Kings on Sunday, Tkachuk delivered a nasty-looking elbow to the head of of Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. He went down to the ice hard and stayed there for several minutes before being helped off the ice, but did return to the game after clearing concussion protocol. The perennial All-Star was not happy with the Flames rookie.
"He's a pretty dirty player, that kid," Doughty said after the game, clearly not impressed with the first-year forward taking liberties on veterans like himself.
"To be a rookie and play like that is a little surprising. I don't know exactly what happened because I got hit in the head, but I thought he elbowed me. Whatever it was, it hurt pretty bad, and it's going to hurt for a bit," Doughty added.
Somehow, someway, Tkachuk wasn't penalized on the play. Despite the refs missing the call on such a blatant elbow, he was contacted by the NHL's Department of Player Safety and will have a hearing on Monday, with a suspension certainly possible.
Tkachuk has had a strong rookie season for the playoff-bound flames, and his effective game is based around physicality and shit-disturbing as much as it's built around producing points. The No. 6 overall pick in last year's entry draft has an impressive 13 goals and 33 assists for 46 points in his first campaign, ranking tied for fifth among rookie scorers, while adding 96 penalty minutes—by far the most among impactful rookies. If not for Patrik Laine and a trio of Maple Leafs freshmen having off-the-charts seasons, Tkachuk would be a strong candidate for the Calder and garnering more attention for his play.
Aside from Doughty, Tkachuk has had run-ins with several other veteran blueliners in the Western Conference, including Norris shoe-in Brent Burns earlier this season, when he stole the San Jose defenceman's stick and refused to give it back.
As Boston's Brad Marchand evolves from the NHL's best 'ball of hate' to one if its most potent point producers, Tkachuk looks just fine with taking over the reigns as the league's new premier pest.