Matt Duchene: Why He Might Never Become Elite


When Matt Duchene was drafted third overall in 2009, the Colorado Avalanche was excited to have a new elite talent for their franchise. Six years later, Duchene still isn’t elite — and he might never be.

Back in 2009, it wasn’t surprising that John Tavares was the New York Islanders’ first-overall selection. The Ontario Hockey League had introduced the “exceptional player” status for him, allowing him to get drafted by the Oshawa Generals at age 14. Following an outstanding junior career in which he broke Wayne Gretzky’s record for most goals scored by a 16-year old, Tavares tried to convince the NHL to allow him to be drafted as a 17-year-old. Then, the Toronto Marlies wanted to sign him to a one-year pro contract the season before the draft. In 2009, it was finally time.

Next up were Matt Duchene and No. 1 European skater Victor Hedman, who were both said to have elite talent. The Tampa Bay Lightning opted for Hedman, leaving Duchene for the Colorado Avalanche. It all worked out great — the Avs got an extremely talented center to follow in Joe Sakic’s foot steps, and on top of that, Duchene is one of the biggest Avalanche fans in the world.

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Six years later, Tavares has 436 NHL games, Hedman sits at 397 and Duchene made 422 NHL appearances (October 16, 2015). All three players jumped right into the NHL for the 2009-2010 season and have played there ever since. In their rookie seasons, Duchene recorded 55 points in 81 games while Tavares had 54 in 82 contests. Today, however, Tavares and Hedman are NHL superstars, while Duchene is, well, still just a player with elite talent.

Tavares was one point short of winning the 2015-16 scoring title, as he posted 86 points in 82 games, and Hedman made the Stanley Cup Finals with the Lightning. Both fell short of ultimate success, but have proven that they are elite players. Matt Duchene, on the other hand, has not.

Duchene is one of the league’s fastest players. He possesses a great shot and outstanding puck skills. But for some reason, he hasn’t been able to make his way to Tavares’s level yet. The question, obviously, is why. And the answer may be just as simple.

But, let’s start at the beginning: how do we define the word “elite”?

As per my personal definition, the following criteria make a scoring forward deserve the prefix elite:

  • Generally leads his team in scoring and produces close to a point per game
  • Is consistently one of the league’s top scorers
  • Makes the players around him better
  • Possesses good (not elite) defensive play
  • Is a team leader

So, how does Matt Duchene compare to that?

In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Duchene led the Avalanche with 43 points, tied with Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. One year later, he led Colorado with 70 points in 71 games and carried the team to a Central Division title. In 2014-15, the Avs played terribly as a whole, Duchene included. He recorded 55 points that season, trailing only Jarome Iginla and Gabriel Landeskog who came in at 59. Admittedly, that last season wasn’t exactly good, but everyone can have a bad year — so we’ll give that first point to him.

Unfortunately, Duchene has been unable to be among the league’s top scorers so far. In 2012-13, he was 26th in the league. In 2013-14, he ranked 16th among NHL skaters and likely would have been higher up, had he played the full 82 games. Between 2011 and today, Duchene is only 55th in scoring, with 196 points in 261 contests. As a comparison, John Tavares ranks third with 286 points in 275 games played, trailing only Claude Giroux and Evgeny Malkin. Therefore, we cannot give this point to Duchene.

Does Duchene make his line mates better? That could be judged by looking at advanced stats, but I will just give you the quick and easy answer. His line mates change constantly because he fails to find chemistry with any given line mates. Furthermore, coach Patrick Roy recently moved Blake Comeau to Duchene’s line, hoping that he can do some good for the line’s possession numbers — which he did. However, that just shows that Duchene doesn’t seem to make the players around him better. So far, it looks like he needs good line mates to start to produce, rather than leading Comeau to a 45-point season.

According to, Duchene’s 2014-15 Corsi-for percentage was 43.2 — the worst of his career. The prior year, he was at 49.0 and his career-best was a 53.1 in 2011-12. Again, as a comparison, Tavares’s 2014-15 Corsi-for percentage was 54.8. So, he definitely isn’t great in this category. However, he also isn’t terrible, and Alex Ovechkin, who used to play zero defense, is also considered elite. Defense also can’t be judged by stats only, and I will just say that Duchene usually plays decent defensively. Therefore, I’ll give him a pass here.

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Last but not least, an elite forward should be a leader on and off the ice. Tavares is the Islanders’ captain, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux and other elite forwards are all captain of their respective team. Duchene, as we all know, doesn’t wear a letter for the Avs. I wrote an article on why I think he should a while ago and 90 percent of (104) voters in our poll agreed. Only three voters disagreed completely, while the other 11 either don’t care or say yes, if it wasn’t for Gabe Landeskog, Jarome Iginla and Cody McLeod. As stated in the article, I believe Duchene is a great leader on and off the ice, but there also must be a reason why he isn’t one of the captains.

So, as a conclusion, we have to agree that Duchene is not an elite forward at the moment. Which is how we get back to the question why he isn’t. I promised you a quick and simply answer to that and here it is: maybe he just isn’t quite talented enough. Ouch.

Perhaps, Duchene would succeed if he was simply the team’s No. 2 center, without any exorbitant expectations. But, Duchene was a third-overall pick said to have elite potential. Just as important is the fact that he seemed destined to be Sakic’s successor after Sakic — one of the best players Colorado and the NHL have ever seen — retired. If Duchene had been a 20th-overall selection, nobody would complain about what he has done so far.

The situation is comparable to that of Avs defenseman Erik Johnson, who was the first-overall pick in the 2006 draft. He didn’t turn out to be one of the best defensemen of all time, and people were disappointed and started calling him a failure. Today, EJ is the Avalanche’s No. 1 defenseman and he’s darn good at it. Nobody in Avs Nation cares about his draft position and everybody is just glad to have a player like him.

Trust me, if Duchene got traded to any one of the 29 remaining NHL teams, everybody would love him as the player he is. A second-line center who scores 55 or 60 points a season? Awesome!

Duchene is a fan favorite in Colorado and he is definitely one of my favorite hockey players. But we all really want him to be that elite forward that Joe Sakic once was. We may not realize it, but our subconscious really wants him to be an elite player. Perhaps he’ll never be that, but he’s a great hockey player and perhaps we should just be glad to have the player we have.

Next: What Duchene Needs to Succeed

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