Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene is inching toward elite status. He had one of the best seasons of his career, leading the Avalanche in points even though he missed 10 games. He has steadily increased his faceoff win percentage and his defensive play. (He’ll never match Paul Stastny in that regard, but that’s not his role.) Heck, he even started passing the puck more, rather than just shooting it.
70 points – Matt Duchene‘s 2013-2014 stats
Actually, that’s the point — once the puck is on his stick, whether from winning more of those faceoffs or general play, Matt Duchene is feeding his wingers. Thus far only center-cum-winger Ryan O’Reilly is proving himself worthy of that feeding. The two players who are actual natural wingers… well, more on that in a moment.
Matt Duchene is one of those players who elevates the play of his linemates. However, the Colorado Avalanche’s offense — the core of their team style — should be augmented by a winger who’s not riding Duchene’s coattails.
Here are some options for the Duchene line.
Boston Bruin’s Milan Lucic
Oh, yes, few players are more hated than Milan Lucic — unless you count the collective hate Avs fans feel for Matt Cooke. However, that’s exactly what would make him an asset to Duchene’s line. Imagine how much more Duchene can accomplish if someone else is drawing opponents’ attention.
Lucic is a big guy with an aggressive style — he’s able to punch holes in defense that weren’t there before. Plus, he’s no slouch as a scorer — he’s had a couple 20-goal seasons and even a 30-goal season.
More significantly, Lucic is a top-six forward who knows how to win in the playoffs. In just seven seasons he’s played an impressive 96 games, including of course, the Stanley Cup win in 2011 and another deep run in 2012.
The distinction of his being a top-six forward is key. Elite players just don’t take their cues from role players — the expectations and skill sets are too different. (No offense, Max Talbot.)
Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane
Stop laughing — yes, general manager Stan Bowman has vowed to extend Kane’s contract. Except he’s also vowed to extend captain Jonathan Toew’s contract, and, according to CapGeek.com, Chicago only has around $1.1 million of wiggle room. But still… no, Kane is likely to be in red, not burgundy, next year.
Nonetheless, fantasize for the moment the speed of a Duchene-Kane pairing. The stick handling, sniper-shot tandems… Their style is so similar that it would almost be like Duchene-times-two on the ice.
Patrick Kane wouldn’t be riding Matt Duchene’s coattails, or vice versa. However, the offensive talent on that line would be an opposing coach’s nightmare. Plus, again, Kane is a top-six forward who knows how to win in the playoffs — even better than Lucic, having won the Stanley Cup twice.
This player is actually available as an unrestricted free agents, but he’s not cheap — and Josh Kroenke has mentioned that bucks come with Avalanche maturation, not inter-team negotiation.
Thomas Vanek (recently of the Montreal Canadiens)
Not that the Avalanche need the Canadiens’ hand-me-downs to create their team, but it has worked in the past.
Vanek’s great with tip-ins — and since Duchene’s passing more, that would be an asset. He also has an accurate shot of his own and at least as good an instinct at being in the right place at the right time as Tyson Barrie. He struggled a bit this year, but he’s had some impressive goal-scoring seasons — including two 30-goal seasons and two 40-goal seasons.
Plus, the Minnesota Wild have been rumored to be courting Vanek. It would be sweet to yank him away from them.
Jamie McGinn or PA Parenteau, PA Parenteau or Jamie McGinn — one of those players is likely going to return to Matt Duchene’s side.
Parenteau had a couple good seasons, with the New York Islanders. Last season with the Avalanche wasn’t terrible, considering the Avs themselves were, well, less than stellar. This season he played ok — kept going too hard against the Winnipeg Jets and injuring his knee, but his stats were semi-decent. Coach Patrick Roy did bench him a couple games, though.
Parenteau certainly showed more of his great offensive instincts in the playoffs. However, he’s just not Matt Duchene caliber, and he doesn’t have the same skills as Ryan O’Reilly. He doesn’t add that much to the line.
If McGinn can just keep his knee to himself — or employ it only when the Avs meet the Wild… just kidding.
McGinn’s great at tip-ins. He can receive one of Duchene’s passes and one-time it into the net. But… just like Parenteau, his play is elevated by Duchene — and not to O’Reilly’s level. And coach Roy did pull him off the Duchene line when Duchene actually returned in the playoffs.
There’s always Alex Tanguay, of course. Tanguay from five or even three years ago would be perfect. Not that he’s all that old now, he’s just sickly. Ok, not sickly — injuredly. Tanguay has been a 20-goal scorer in his time, but it looks like those days are in the past. Tanguay from three years ago, though, with his puck possession, his dangles, his shots — that would be the perfect complement to Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
Maybe Tanguay’s new hip will make him bionic, right?