Colorado Avalanche Center Matt Duchene: Under the Radar, Primed For Success


Is it fair to say that Matt Duchene is coming into this season a bit under the radar? A bold claim, but I stand behind it. Nathan MacKinnon is riding the hype train first class – steak and lobster delivered to his seat on the regular, although he is still too young to take a swig of champagne. MacKinnon looks poised to join the NHL ranks of superstardom sooner rather than later, and has been described as “more explosive” and having gone from “boy to man” in the past couple of months, according to New York Islanders star center John Tavares (drafted 2 spots ahead of Duchene in 2009). A delightful proclamation for Avalanche Nation.

Semyon Varlamov was the MVP of the Avalanche last year, and finished 2nd in Vezina Trophy voting for best goalie, and 4th in the Hart Memorial Trophy voting for league MVP. Many within the hockey community believe the success/failure of the Avalanche this season rides on Varly’s effectiveness between the pipes.

Tyson Barrie and Ryan O’Reilly dominated large chunks of the off-season as new contracts were hammered out for each. Future Hall of Famer, and former Avalanche nemesis, Jarome Iginla inked a 3-year contact to take his talents and aging body to the thin air of the Mile High City. Gabe Landeskog, and his photogenic smile and golden locks, have made the captain a focal point in media coverage surrounding the Avs.

And then, there’s Matt Duchene. Quietly going about his business this off-season. Arguably, a slightly forgotten man entering the 2014-15 campaign. All Duchene did last year was lead the Avalanche in points, scoring 23 goals and dishing out 47 assists over 70 games, as well as capturing an Olympic Gold Medal with the Canadian National Team. He is the original speedster of the Avalanche forward corps, and is a highlight waiting to happen whenever his skates hit the ice.

Duchene and the Avalanche have been symbiotic since Duchene’s childhood, when he regularly sported a burgundy sweater with Colorado sprawled diagonally across the front. Roy and Sakic posters hung from his walls, and when Dutchy found out he was Denver bound on draft day, he didn’t bother to hide an enthusiastic fist pump.

If the Avalanche and winning are to be symbiotic this year, Duchene is as key an ingredient as any player on the roster. Duchene fell in love with the Avs, because the team was full of winners. Guys with immense talent, who translated that talent into Hall of Fame careers with deep playoff runs and Stanley Cup championships.

Duchene is now entering his 6th season in the NHL. Hard to believe, right?! Dutchy is no longer a baby-faced youngster. The time is now for him to do whatever it takes to bring deep playoff runs back to Colorado. I trust Duchene more than anyone else on this team, to know what it means to bring a Stanley Cup title back to Colorado.

For me, the way I’m wired, the more pressure and the more responsibility I have, the better I’ll perform. -Matt Duchene

The loss of Paul Stastny redefines Duchene’s role on the team. Stastny may not have had elite talent as far as skating, shooting, or stick-handling, and Avs fans often lamented Stastny’s frequent absences from the score-sheet, especially in big games.

However, the void Stastny leaves is less obvious than the points he contributed to your fantasy team. Stastny is an excellent possession player. He was the Avs best forward last season in most possession metrics, and did so while facing the hardest competition of any Avalanche forward.

The Avs already ranked in the bottom third of the league in possession metrics last season, prior to losing Stastny, leading many to predict the Avalanche to fall back to reality this season. In fact, last year the two teams who most outperformed their possession predictions were the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche. The advanced stats community had a field day as the Maple Leafs turned yellow and wilted down the stretch, losing 12 of their final 14 games to tumble out of the playoff picture. The Avs are next on their radar.

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I would argue that the Avs have enough quick strike weapons, that can take one opportunity in transition and turn it into a goal, that high quantities of puck possession are less critical for success than for many other teams. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to see the puck on our guy’s sticks a bit more this season. Duchene was one of the better possession forwards on the team last year, but he’ll have to eat up some tougher minutes with the departure of Stastny. Duchene needs to elevate his game, perhaps a mile high, in order to keep pace with the hordes of high powered centers in the Western Conference.

Duchene needs to be the man. MacKinnon is still a puppy, and doesn’t have the maturity to his game that Duchene has yet. MacKinnon may top Duchene in scoring this season, and compete with him for best jaw-dropping play of the year. But there is no denying, when it comes to the little details of winning, the center with those responsibilities is Matt Duchene.

Duchene has all the tools he could ask for, as his wingers are more imposing than any set he has ever had in Colorado. Iginla, Landeskog, and O’Reilly are no picnic for opposing defenders to handle, and Tanguay is a crafty player in his own right. Duchene needs to be the catalyst that gets whatever pair he’s playing with to click as a unit. This means not falling into the trap that has plagued Duchene at times throughout his career, of trying to do everything on his own. Stastny excelled at making everyone on his line better, and Duchene has the vision and creativity to do this as well. He just has to trust it.

I’m around winners on Team Canada, all day, every day. You look around the room and see all that Stanley Cup experience and all those Stanley Cup championships. You watch what those guys do. I’m a sponge. -Matt Duchene

If Duchene wants to leave a legacy like his idols Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Peter Forsberg, he needs to take that next step, and be a driving force towards winning. He has to be more than just a talented young hockey player. MacKinnon brings the flash. Varly is the backbone. Landy brings the charm and leadership, and O’Reilly has the versatility. Duchene is the heart-and-soul, and he needs to pump that passion  and drive throughout the entire team.

One of the things Duchene took home from his Olympic experience, aside from a shiny medal, was the experience of playing with Canada’s best – guys who have won on hockey’s biggest stages. Duchene said “I’m around winners on Team Canada, all day, every day. You look around the room and see all that Stanley Cup experience and all those Stanley Cup championships. You watch what those guys do. I’m a sponge.” Time to execute, Matt Duchene. Time to become a winner. Time to turn Stanley Cup contender into a reality in Colorado.