Should Sens prospect Brady Tkachuk go back to school or turn pro?

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The Ottawa Senators were thrilled to land forward Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but how soon can we expect to see him in a Sens jersey?

Tkachuk, who has one year under his belt at Boston University, has the option of turning pro next season or returning to school for at least one more year. The 18-year-old is expected to make a decision on his playing future before Aug. 12.

“The decision will be based on what’s best for my development short- and long-term; I want to have a long career and don’t want to go somewhere and not have an impact,” Tkachuk told NHL.com. “I want to make an impact wherever I go and be able to contribute and play my best. Having both options is a great problem to have; they are two great spots.”

Fellow 2018 first-rounders Quinn Hughes (Canucks) and Oliver Wahlstrom (Islanders) have already both decided to head back to school for the 2018-19 season. Now, we have to wait and see if Tkachuk will follow.

As the power forward mentioned, he’s worried about his short-term and long-term development, so this is a huge decision for him. In the end, only he knows what’s best for him, but we can still take a deeper look at the decision he’s wrestling with at this time.

You’d think that he’d only leave school if the Sens are fully willing to keep him on the roster. If their plan is to send him to the American Hockey League, he’d probably be better off staying at BU.

So let’s assume they’re going to keep him around in the NHL if he goes pro. Obviously, there’s no better league in the world, so Tkachuk would be playing at the highest level. That’s what every young hockey player dreams of doing. The fact that he’d be able to do it as a teenager would be a significant accomplishment. There’s no denying that playing and practicing against the best every day will make you better.

He’d also be able to learn under veteran hockey minds like Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford, which could help his development, too.

On the flip side, Boucher is known for not having much faith in his youngsters. He tends to lean on veterans, which means that unless Tkachuk is lighting it up on a regular basis, he might not get as much ice time as he’s hoping for. These types of things must all factor into his decision.

Tkachuk put up strong numbers in his freshman season at BU, as he posted eight goals and 31 points in 40 games (he was fourth on his team in points), but there’s always room for improvement in that area. He could stand to put the puck in the net a little more often and he could also work to get quicker and stronger, which is normal for a player of his age.

Being physical is a huge part of Tkachuk’s game. In college, he might be one of the bigger players on the ice every night. In the NHL, that won’t be the case. His brother, Matthew, plays a similar style and he was able to make the jump to the NHL as a teenager, but not all people are created equal. If the younger Tkachuk has any doubts about his ability to be an effective NHLer right now, he should probably head back to the NCAA.

“The biggest improvement Brady made last season was his skating, and part of that was strength, and part of it was the fact he’s still growing; I think he grew an inch at BU last year. He’s a really talented player, but is still a little bit of a work in progress,” Boston University coach Albie O’Connell told NHL.com. “He’s not completely fully physically developed so there’s a lot of gains that he can make.”

It’s not easy to temporarily sacrifice huge dollars to go back to school, but jumping to the NHL too early could eventually cause a player to lose money down the line if they flame out. Thankfully for Tkachuk, he has a father and a brother with NHL experience.

And the last thing to consider is the situation the Sens currently find themselves in. Between their controversial owner and the whole Erik Karlsson trade/no trade situation, there’s enough distractions to last a lifetime. What if the Sens don’t find a suitable deal for Karlsson until later on in the season? There’s going to be a lot of eyeballs on that whole situation, so do you really want your prized rookie exposed to everything that’s going on? Probably not.

Given where the Sens are as a franchise right now, it might be best for everyone if Tkachuk heads back to Boston University. He’d be able to dominate physically at that level, increase his offensive production, work on his skating and guarantee himself a spot on Team USA’s World Junior squad.

But no matter what anybody else thinks, it’ll be up to Tkachuk and his family to figure the best course of action.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.