Matthew Tkachuk may well be the biggest hockey star to ever come through South Florida. In many ways, he already is. While some may argue that such a statement is premature, exaggerated, or biased, there is no denying that Tkachuk is unlike anyone the Florida Panthers have ever seen. In the franchise’s almost 30-year history, Tkachuk has managed to change the team’s trajectory and create a buzz that has hushed many of the criticisms that have plagued the Panthers since their inception.
South Florida has always struggled with how to value hockey, and the Panthers have been no exception. However, Tkachuk’s arrival has provided context for those unfamiliar with sports fandom in the region, highlighting that South Florida fans are drawn to events rather than just games. Tkachuk’s presence has made watching him play hockey, attend news conferences, or even talk about being in People Magazine an event for fans.
What sets Tkachuk apart from other hockey stars that have played for the Panthers in the past, such as Pavel Bure, Dino Ciccarelli, Jaromir Jagr, Igor Larionov, Roberto Luongo, and Joe Nieuwendyk, is his unique personality. While these players were all great in their own right, Tkachuk’s persona is what has made him stand out from the rest. Tkachuk is personable, funny, and a team player, making him a one-of-a-kind player that has won over South Florida fans.
Despite being initially met with reservations by some fans after the Panthers traded homegrown talent and 100-point scorer Jonathan Huberdeau for him, Tkachuk’s actions and performances quickly won fans over. He threw out the first pitch at a Miami Marlins game and left an impression with the Marlins’ television broadcast crew during his in-game visit, all before training camp even started. He was selling himself and his brand from day one.
Tkachuk’s breakout performance in the playoffs in 2021-2022 cemented his status as a hockey superstar in South Florida. He was one of the team’s most visible figures, scoring three goals and six points, including the winner in overtime in Game 5 to keep the season alive. He also led the team in the regular season, finishing with the fourth 40-goal season in team history, the second-most assists (69), and second-most points (109) in team history, and just the second 100-point season in team history. Tkachuk’s performances earned him a place in the Hart Trophy discussion as the most valuable player in the league.
Tkachuk’s impact has not gone unnoticed by former Panthers players, who are emotional about the team’s recent success. It reminds them of what it was like during the 1995-96 season when the Panthers were in the Stanley Cup Final. Tkachuk’s presence has also come at an important time for the Panthers, who have made the playoffs in four straight seasons, the longest stretch of consecutive playoff seasons in team history, making it the golden age of Panthers hockey.
Moving forward, the Panthers’ next long-term goal is to sustain their success and create a long-term connection with the rest of the South Florida market. While the Miami Heat and the Panthers currently have South Florida’s undivided attention, the Panthers must establish the same level of success that has allowed the Heat to create their long-standing fandom and interest.
If Tkachuk continues on his current trajectory and helps lead the Panthers to the Stanley Cup championship, he will undoubtedly become the biggest hockey star to ever come through South Florida. As Bill Lindsay, former Panthers player and current member of the team’s broadcast crew, said, “If he wins the Cup, he’s the biggest star that ever comes through here. Nobody has done that. Nobody has ever done what he’s done in the playoffs.”