Colorado Avalanche Player Grade: Matt Duchene

Jan 30, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Central Division forward Matt Duchene (9) of the Colorado Avalanche skates with the puck on his stick during the breakaway challenge in the 2016 NHL All Star Game Skills Competition at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Central Division forward Matt Duchene (9) of the Colorado Avalanche skates with the puck on his stick during the breakaway challenge in the 2016 NHL All Star Game Skills Competition at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene receives the highest player grade on the team for his play during the 2015-16 season.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the Colorado Avalanche’s success largely rests on center Matt Duchene‘s shoulders. He’s as close to a franchise player as found in hockey, the man whose salary provides the over-arching structure for the entire team.

In my mind at least, the team’s history is broken up into three sections — the Golden Years, the Dark Ages and the Duchene Era. When the Colorado Avalanche selected Matt Duchene third-overall in the 2009 NHL draft, he was the highest pick the team had ever had. (That’s since been eclipsed by a second-overall and then a first-overall pick.)

Duchene doesn’t wear a letter — yet — but he’s still part of the central core of the team. There’s no question he’s a top-six forward, part of the one-two punch Colorado has at center. He’s also the player head coach Patrick Roy taps to do double-duty if one of the other forwards goes down in a game. Duchene is on the first power play unit.

Matt Duchene’s career hasn’t followed quite the arc we’ve all expected. He’s a streaky scorer, and clusters of goals can be followed by long scoring droughts. Perhaps that’s why it took until his seventh year in the NHL to score 30 goals in a season. That said, he’s had five 20+ goal seasons.

Duchene is typically the leading scorer on the Colorado Avalanche, even when he’s missed time due to injury. He finished top in scoring this season with 59 points. He missed six games with a knee injury. Matt was also the team’s lone representative on the All Star team.

Let’s look at Duchene’s 2015-16 season.

More Player Grades:

Matt Duchene’s Statistics

From Sporting Charts:

colorado avalanche
Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene’s 2015-16 statistics. Photo credit: Sporting Charts /

Player Grade: A-

When the season ended, I didn’t intend to give any player more than a B. But even then the candidate for that highest grade was Matt Duchene. And after analyzing his season, I feel an A- is deserved.

It’s true his overall points-total should have been higher. Duchene is usually as good a playmaker as he is goal producer, but this year that gift lacked. His linemates changed a lot — he skated with Mikkel Boedker, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nathan MacKinnon, Jarome Iginla and Gabriel Landeskog throughout the season. For two seasons in a row, his main partner — first Paul Stastny then Ryan O’Reilly — left in the summer. That could help explain why Duchene struggled to make plays for his partners.

That said, Matt Duchene certainly was the best player on the team last season. As I mentioned he was the leading points producer and leading goal scorer. Indeed, as we all know by now, he scored 30 goals for the first time ever in his career.

Duchene had a shaky start to his season which he followed by an historic November. He also represented the Colorado Avalanche at the All Star weekend in flashy style:

Watching this never gets old.

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Matt Duchene’s Future

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. Matt Duchene celebrated his personal milestone when he reached 30 goals. Head coach Patrick Roy criticized him for it. Many people take that to mean he’s on the outs with coach Roy. I see the exact opposite. As Patrick later explained, he wants Matt to take more of a leadership role on the team. I can’t imagine he meant just for the remaining three games of the season — I take it to mean he wants to eventually award Matt Duchene with a letter.

I went into great detail here about why I don’t think Matt Duchene is on the trade block:

Related Story: Duchene Unlikely to be Traded?

It all comes down to the fact that the Colorado Avalanche could never get adequate return on a deal. It’s not just that Duchene is talented — there is plenty of talent in the NHL. It’s the fact that Matt bleeds burgundy and blue — he is committed to this team above others because of his personal history, and that’s rare. It also helps explain his very team-friendly contract — lesser players certainly make a lot more than Duchene’s $6 million, for all it’s the Avalanche’s personal cap ceiling. (Ahem, Stastny, O’Reilly.)

What really sets Matt Duchene apart on the Colorado Avalanche is that he has the Stanley Cup attitude that all the other core players are still trying to learn. It’s that undefinable will to win — and willingness to do anything to improve your game. Most players take that to mean work harder.

Matt Duchene takes it well into the next level. Long ago he recognized that he tends to get preoccupied with his performance, thus affecting said performance. Duchene took it upon himself to start seeing a sports psychologist. That is a dedication to winning that far surpasses what most players are willing to do — they of the “just push through” mentality.

Duchene’s unique will also comes through in his willingness to approach the game as a student. He caught flak from Patrick Roy twice last season — and that couldn’t have been easy considering Patrick’s personality and Duchene’s boyhood idolization of the 1990s Avalanche. However, Duchene reacted with aplomb both times.

When coach Roy criticized Duchene for his lack of points production last October, Matt took his teaching to heart and responded with the historic November. Even before coach Roy criticized him for the goal celebration, Duchene talked about how he’d had nothing the celebrate — thus echoing Patrick’s words even before he heard them.

When later confronted with the brouhaha — and knowing that much of the fan base was coming down on his side — Matt Duchene responded perfectly:

"“I totally understand where [Roy’s]  coming from, what he’s trying to do. I’m on board with it, I think we all are… We talked, I know exactly what he was getting at, I know what the message was, and I believe in that message… It was one of those things where right away, I certainly knew it wasn’t the right thing, the right reaction. I kind of buried my head after that, even going back to the bench. I understood it wasn’t the right thing.”"

Duchene was unequivocal in saying that his action had been a mistake and that he’s in total agreement with the coach. Whether that’s true or not is beside the point — Duchene took responsibility in a tough situation and made the right decision in how to react.

Coaches love scorers and love leaders. The Colorado Avalanche are going to be building around players who show character in addition to skill. That’s why moving forward, Matt Duchene’s future with the team looks very bright.