ST. LOUIS – Well before he carried the Florida Panthers to their upcoming Stanley Cup Final quest, rising star Matthew Tkachuk was a St. Louis kid with big ambitions.

Matthew is the oldest of three children of former St. Louis Blues great Keith Tkachuk. His brother Brady Tkachuk is the captain of the Ottawa Senators. His sister Taryn is also a field hockey star for the University of Virginia.

Matthew was born in Arizona while his father played for the then-called Phoenix Coyotes. The Tkachuk family moved to the St. Louis metro after Keith was traded to the Blues in 2001.

Matthew was heavily involved in local junior hockey programs as a kid, and his path to stardom took off in the early 2010s. At the start of the decade, he represented St. Louis through the 2010 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. Up north, he was joined by fellow St. Louis-raised youngsters and future NHLers Clayton Keller, Luke Kunin and Logan Brown.

Tkachuk stuck with the program for several years. By 2013, as a member of the the St. Louis AAA Blues 97 team, he reached the finals twice for the USA Hockey National Championships. In the 2012-13 season, Tkachuk averaged nearly two points per game and finished with 25 goals, 57 assists over 41 contests, according to

After 2013, Tkachuk left St. Louis for the United States Hockey League. He carried over his strong play, earning a gold medal at both the U-17 World Hockey Challenge and the 2015 U-18 IIHF World Championships. In the later tournament, he scored twice and led all players with 10 assists over seven games.

FILE – In this Jan. 5, 2016, file photo, Auston Matthews, left, and Matthew Tkachuk of the United States, celebrate a goal during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship bronze medal game against Sweden in Helsinki, Finland. (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva via AP, File)

Nearing the age-equivalent of senior year of high school, Tkachuk had some important decisions to make. Should he return to St. Louis, years after Keith retired from the Blues? Should he pursue college hockey, the usual route for NHL prospects? Or should he keep building a path that could get him reach NHL glory as a teenager?

He ultimately went for the later of the three, and it proved to be one of the best decisions of his young career. Tkachuk dominated in one season with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, scoring 107 points in 57 games. He ended up with OHL and Memorial Cup titles.

The next season, Tkachuk was NHL Draft eligible and expected to be a Top-10 pick. He went No. 6 overall to the Calgary Flames, where he debuted at 19 years old in 2016 and spent seven seasons up until last year.

In addition to his experience with the Blues junior program, Tkachuk lived a large life in St. Louis for much of his childhood. He, his siblings and their mother Chantal joined Keith for two important NHL ceremonies at the then-called Scottrade Center. One honored Keith for reaching 1000 career points in 2008. The other was a retirement sendoff for Keith in 2010.

In both instances, Matthew is wholesomely taking in celebration with his father and sporting a St. Louis Blues jersey. He even had a chance to skate around with his father and siblings after Keith’s final game in 2010.

St. Louis Blues’ Keith Tkachuk is seen during a ceremony with his son Matthew following an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks Friday, April 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Years later, Keith and Matthew share a special bond and credit St. Louis for their development as hockey stars.

“You can make it to junior hockey, you can make it to Division I, you can make it to the NHL. You can do that from playing here in St. Louis, and I want to make sure kids know that,” said Matthew in a 2020 interview with Bally Sports Midwest alongside Keith.

Off the ice, Keith treated his children to some great memories. “Big Walt” and Chantal told NHL SportsNet writer Eric Francis that karaoke machines, Christmas parties and youth hockey team dinners were a big part of Matthew’s home life.

“Honest to god, I still get random texts from moms who said, ‘That was just the best,'” said Chantal via SportsNet.

The experience is so good that even current Blues youngster Robert Thomas spent some time living with the Tkachuks in St. Louis while looking for a more permanent housing situation.

Matthew didn’t only cross paths with future hockey talents out of St. Louis, but one of basketball’s biggest stars today. Matthew gained a strong friendship with four-time Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum. The two first met through a middle school gym class at Chaminade College Preparatory School, and both starred in Tatum’s school project video from 2013.

In the video, Tatum gives credit to the basketball program as a reason for attending Chaminade, then quickly adds “another reason why I came to Chaminade is because of great people and great fans.” He calls out four guys, including Matthew Tkachuk and calls them all “Great guys.”

Tkachuk, in a recent interview with Bleacher Report, said he remembers Tatum as a confident and friendly guy. Through gym class, Tkachuk had the chance to see Tatum’s talents up close.

Former Phoenix Coyotes forward Keith Tkachuk and his family watch the unveiling of Tkachuk’s number in the Coyotes Ring of Honor prior to an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

“I don’t know if he called his shot, but he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to the NBA.’ Just like that, and I was like, “Yeah, I mean, you’re way better than anybody I’ve ever seen.” He also jokes that Tatum wasn’t quite as good at hockey as basketball, though describes Tatum as a confident and friendly guy.

Tatum and Tkachuk both just appeared in Eastern Conference Finals for the NBA and NHL. Tatum battled against a South Florida squad while Tkachuk represented one. Tatum fell short of advancing to the NBA Finals by one game, though delivered some big games amid the playoff run.

Tkachuk made the most of his conference finals. The Panthers swept a largely-favored Carolina Hurricanes team in four games. Tkachuk delivered overtime game-winners in the first two, the opener which lasted a history-pushing four overtimes. Tkachuk then assisted on a game-winning goal in Game 3. And just last week, in Game 4, he scored a clutch go-ahead goal with just four seconds remaining in regulation, sending the Panthers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 27 years.

“We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it,” said Tkachuk via the Assoicated Press as the eight-seed Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk (19) reacts after scoring the game-winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes in the waning seconds of the third period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference finals. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Tkachuk joined the Panthers in the offseason in a trade after some contract uncertainties with the Flames. He signed an eight-year, $76 million deal with Florida last offseason. Before a remarkable playoff run, he shattered his career high in points in the regular season and scored 40 goals for the second straight year. He’s added to that with 21 playoff points in 16 games.

Last summer, before Tkachuk joined the Panthers, there had been some rumblings of potentially reuniting with his hometown St. Louis Blues. That didn’t happen, and if he ever does it will likely be late in his career.

Tkachuk still has a special place in his heart for St. Louis too, even if he doesn’t immediately acknowledge it. During the 2020 NHL Skills competition at the Enterprise Center, Tkachuk embarked on a long-range shooting challenge, though took off his Flames jersey for a St. Louis Cardinals-themed hockey jersey. The St. Louis crowd absolutely loved it.

All things considered, having a St. Louis-raised kid like Tkachuk in the Stanley Cup Final is about the next best thing Blues fans could ask for aside from cheering on the team or former teammates. It also speaks volumes on youth hockey development in St. Louis and what local hockey players could become at their top potential.

Tkachuk and the Panthers open the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. Tkachuk will battle for the grand prize against two former Blues, Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev. Puck drop for 7 p.m. CT on TNT.