SUNRISE, Fla. – Matthew Tkachuk is a 2023 NHL All-Star.
Most of us could probably guess well before Thursday night’s announcement by the NHL that Tkachuk would represent the Florida Panthers when they host the All-Star Game next month.
Whether the Panthers have any other representatives voted to join Tkachuk is yet to be seen, but when it became known that the league would be selecting one All-Star from each team to play in the annual three-on-three tournament, there was little doubt it would be anyone other than the 25-year-old superstar.
“Being able to show off South Florida to players throughout the league is going to be probably my favorite part,” Tkachuk said after learning the news Thursday. “It’s going to be awesome sharing the ice with so many incredible players.”
It’s a group that the first-year Florida forward has earned his spot among.
Entering Thursday, Tkachuk was tied for eighth in the NHL in scoring with 47 points in 36 games. He leads all Panthers in goals, assists, points, power play points and shots on goal.
He has been one of the few Florida players to excel in a season where the team, to this point, has regressed.
A year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team, Florida sits seventh in the Atlantic Division and eight points back of the final Wild Card spot with 43 games to go.
Though to his credit, when asked about the possibility of experiencing the fun and festivities of All-Star Weekend amid the Panthers disappointing first half of the season, Tkachuk was quick to point out that there is still a month between now and then, and he believes his club will be in a different spot in the standings when they pause for the annual showcase.
“We have 14 or 15 (games) left, so we’re going to be in a lot different position than we are now going into break,” Tkachuk said.
He believes the team will grow together and improve their position while enduring an extremely tough January schedule that includes a seven day, four game western-midwestern road trip, a three games in four nights in Buffalo, Toronto and Montreal road trip and a back-to-back roadie against the Rangers and Pittsburgh.
Of Florida’s four January home games, three are against teams currently holding a playoff position.
If things are going to change around here, if the Panthers are going to grow, it’ll be through adversity.
“I think a lot will change,” Tkachuk said. “Lots of travel, lots of road games, lots of very tough opponents we’re playing, and hopefully that brings our team closer together and hopefully we can bring that gritty, low scoring, desperate hockey type of games that we need to play right now, and win those low scoring games.”
When the big weekend arrives, it’ll be Tkachuk’s second go-round as an All-Star. He was previously selected in 2020 when he was a member of the Calgary Flames and the game was held in St. Louis.
His fondest All-Star memories, however, came more than a decade before that, when Tkachuk was just 11 years old.
The game was in Montreal that year. Matthew’s dad, Keith, was playing.
“I was old enough to remember it, and that was one of the highlights of my life,” he said. “Just being around the top players, taking pictures of them, and now I’m kind of in that position for some of their kids, so it comes full circle.”
Going into the event with that kind of mentality should lead to some incredible core memories for young hockey fans enjoying the festivities in Sunrise.
As for making his own memories, Tkachuk said he plans to have around 20 friends and family members in town to relish everything the game and region have to offer.
“I’ll take them all to my favorite spots and we’ll make a fun week out of it,” he said.
One family member in particular should be able to share in much of the fun, and that’s Matthew’s younger brother Brady.
He was selected to represent the Ottawa Senators at the All-Star Game, which means the Tkachuk brothers will be on the same team and, hopefully, the same line.
“I’ve never played with him on a team before my life, so that’ll be very cool,” Matthew said. “Just the potential to have all the family here cheering us on is probably what I’m looking forward to the most.”
It’s a unique position Tkachuk finds himself in…living in a new, tropical home and inviting people down in the middle of winter to a massive event where he will be a sort of de-facto host.
To be sure, Florida hosting the All-Star Game is not something he thought about when signing with the Panthers last summer.
“No, that was not on my radar,” he said.
Not that he minds.
Make no mistake, flaunting the beautiful South Florida surroundings he now calls home is something Tkachuk said he is very much looking forward to.
“It’s not really just about the Skills (Competition) and the game itself, it’s the whole week,” he said. “It’s having tons of family in town and everybody here supporting, and it’s super exciting for me to show off my new home and try to make everybody around the league jealous of where I live.”