"If you let him dictate where he is going to be, you have no chance to stop him. He’s so strong and he protects the puck so well with his big body. When he’s determined to get to the net, you just have to hope it isn’t his night." - San Jose Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan
Keith Tkachuk is arguably one of the toughest NHL players out on the ice today. He also has a mean streak like nobody's business. Tkachuk often garners more headlines for suspensions and injuries he causes rather than the goals he scores or games he wins. He served a four game suspension in February and March of the 2002-2003 season for whacking a player with his stick, something he likes to often do. This is not to say that he isn't a prolific scorer. He is one of the most talented power forwards in the league who has never scored less than 20 goals a season excepting only his first partial season in the NHL. In fact, in the '95-'96 season he scored 50 goals, and 52 the following season.
"Keith Tkachuk is by far the toughest player in the league for me to play against. He’s a warrior. He pushes his way to the front of the net -- and when you push back, he usually has one more push than you do." - Los Angeles Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom
Keith Tkachuk was born on March 28, 1972 in Melrose, Massachusetts. He lumbers around at a height of 6'2", plays left wing and indeed shoots left. He was Winnipeg's 1st choice, 19th overall in 1990 NHL Entry Draft. As of the end of the 2006-2007 season Tkachuk has notched 473 goals, 453 assists (good for 926 points) in 976 games played. He has also racked up a whopping 2033 penalty minutes. As far as playoffs are concerned, in 85 post season contests (12 playoff runs) Tkachuk has to his name 28 goals and 28 assists for a total of 56 points (along 174 penalty minutes). Those playoff numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but one of the biggest complaints about Keith Tkachuk that you'll find is that he does phenomenal in the regular season but is often hard to find when post season begins.
After having a pretty good season at Boston University in 1990-1991, Tkachuk came up to the Winnipeg Jets in '91-'92 following his stint with the US Junior National Team and 1992 Olympic Team. He played 17 regular season games with the big boys, playing in his first NHL game and notching his first point/assist on February 28 vs. Vancouver. He went on to score his first NHL goal on March 8 versus the Minnesota North Stars. He then went on to score 3 goals in his first-ever playoff series.
Tkachuk never looked back after that. He experienced a 12-game scoring streak in his first full NHL season and scored four goals in the only four playoff games the Jets played that year. In just the next season, 1993-1994, on November 6th, Tkachuk was named the Jets' captain and led the club in points with 81 (41G, 40A). He registered his first career hat trick on October 23 at Philadelphia.
As mentioned earlier, the next season was where Keith reached the 50-goal plateau for the first time, getting that all-important biscuit in the basket on April 6, 1996 while playing the Los Angeles Kings.
The next season, in 1996, the Jets moved south all the way down to Phoenix, Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes. Hockey in the desert? It didn't seem to make much sense, but Tkachuk did not miss a stride and kept playing as if nothing unusual had happened. If anything, he made things even hotter in the Southwest as he continued to dazzle his team's fans with high marks in goals and assists. His 52 tallies that season gave him the distinction of being the first US born player to lead the NHL in goals. He scored four of those goals in one game (doing that for the first time in his career) on March 20 at Chicago. Also that season Keith played in his first All Star Game.
The next two seasons he simmered down to 40, then 36 goals, still respectable but under expectations. However, he did lead his team in scoring for the third, then fourth seasons in a row. In the 1999-2000 season he missed 38 games due to injury and, two for a suspension, and scored a lukewarm 22 goals. The next season would be his last in the Jets/Coyotes franchise, as on the trade deadline (March 13, 2001), he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues for Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, Jeff Taffe and the Blues' first round selection in the 2002 Entry Draft. Blues fans welcomed him with open arms, even though back in 1993 he split the lip open of then-Blue and fan-favorite player Brendan Shannahan with a mean whack of his stick. In that 2001 playoffs he helped the Blues to their first crack at the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 1986, where they harpooned the Sharks, swept past the Stars, and were buried by the Avalanche.
In his six years in St. Louis he enjoyed fan praise and high regular season numbers. In 2002-2003 he finished second in the club with 31 goals. He notched only one goal, however, in the playoffs where the Blues folded to the Canucks in seven games in the first round. In the 2003-2004 season he lead the team in goals with 33. In the 2004 playoffs he didn't get a single goal and only two assists in the Blues' first round ouster at the hands of San Jose in five games. After the washed-out 04-05 non-season, Tkachuk looked forward to being a force again on the ice for St. Louis in '05-'06. He ended up virtually on a goal-per-game pace -- when he wasn't injured that is. After being suspended in the preseason for being out of shape, in the first game in Detroit he went down with a groin injury. After coming back from that in 3 games he was impaled with his own stick and missed 15. After coming back from that he scored 8 goals in 8 games before going down - AGAIN - with an injured knuckle. 22-games later he came back just in time play a little before heading off to the Olympics in Turin, Italy.
"You know something, I sort of missed battling with him like I did for so many years when I was in Dallas and Detroit. He's like a big bear out there. He's awfully hard to handle in front of the net -- and with the way the rules are now, you can bet one of two things are going to happen against him: Either he’s going to get a great scoring chance and you won’t be able to do anything about it or you’re going to have to try to pull him down." - defenseman Derian Hatcher, early 2006, while Tkachuk was out.
This spat of injuries to "Walt" was very bad for the Blues during that struggling season that saw them only manage a 21-46-15 record, the second-worst season in Blues history and, with their 57 points, the worst in the entire league that year. The only consolation to that year was that the Blues got the #1 draft pick.
Many expected Tkachuk to be traded that year, but he would not waive his trade clause. He knew that the Blues, after having changed ownership in 2006 and getting a new president in hockey analyst and former Blues goalie John Davidson (who was also de facto GM after Larry Pleau was reduced to an advisory role), would be on a road to rebuilding and he wanted to be a part of it. The next year, after picking up where they left off playing terribly, the Blues caught on fire under new coach Andy Murray who had been hired in December 2006 after Mike Kitchen was fired. Tkachuk was no small part of this 17-7-3 tirade from the middle of December to the middle of February. But he was in the final year of a contract and the Blues still had quite a climb to get back into a playoff spot. So he waived his trade clause and he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in the wee morning hours of February 25, 2007 for Glen Metropolit, a 1st round pick in 2007, a 3rd round pick in 2007 and a 2nd round pick in 2008. Tkachuk had said before the trade he'd like to do what teammate Doug Weight did: get traded to a team that could win the Cup and then come back the next season. It was probably for this reason that part of the deal was that if he resigned with Atlanta the Blues would get another 1st round pick in 2008. The move converted him to a center and he played that position for Atlanta the entire time he was there.
The Thrashers had never made the playoffs in their 7 1/2 year history but in February, 2007, at the time of acquiring Tkachuk, they had a tenuous hold on the #6 playoff spot with two other teams nipping right at their heels. They were counting on Keith to provide an offensive, power force up front and help launch them further ahead in the standings and solidify their place in their very first playoff run. Even though he didn't register a point, in his debut with the Thrashers on February 26, 2007 they rallied to win 3-2 in Boston.
The Thrashers did make the playoffs but were trounced in four games by the Rangers. Tkachuck only had one goal, one of Atlanta's ony two goals, in Game Four. He also had two assists in that series.
After that bitter disappointment in the offseason he again found himself bargaining with the Blues. Even though he had had only 20 goals for the Blues that season (adding 7 to that total after arriving in Atlanta) - a far cry from his 50-goal-season years, he was still one of the top offensemen in the offensively anemic Blues that year. He ended up signing a two-year, $8 million deal to return to the Gateway City after a 2-hour conversation with John Davidson about the Blues' committment to building a better team and his committment to being a better player. After the signing the Blues went and signed Paul Karyia. Then Andy Murray announced he would try having Tkachuk center a line with Kariya on the left and Brad Boyes on the right, keeping Keith in his new position (center) upon his return to St. Louis - and keeping helping keep the Blues' promise to build a better team.