Matt Duchene is really exploding as a player. “No duh,” right?
Everything he’s done so far this young season has legitimized his case for inclusion on Canada’s Olympic team. The Avalanche are benefitting from having such an explosive and productive player, who has helped fuel a 12-2-0 start for a team with middling expectations. He’s boosted his reputation to previously anticipated levels – on a pedestal where he’ll be compared to fellow 2009 draft pick John Tavares for perhaps his entire career.
Unfair as it may be, since the two play different styles, the fact this narrative is still relevant and interesting is a good thing for Duchene. If it wasn’t worth rehashing he would be having a season like the dreadful one he had in 2011-12 and not be the dynamic presence he’s been this season and last.
When you think of Duchene, you think of speed. Brilliant, blinding, blurred speed. But he’s got a soft pair of hands and a still-budding goal scoring ability to go with it, which is allowing Duchene to pull off goals like this one from his three-point effort in a 6-4 loss to Nashville Wednesday night.
Duchene and Tavares put up points at a similar pace their first two years in the league, but Duchene dipped to 28 points in 58 games in ’11-12 and had trouble with injuries. Meanwhile, Tavares ascended to 81 points and led his Islanders to an unexpected playoff berth the season after. He was even getting some Hart Trophy backing.
Part of the reason Duchene has been able to pick himself back up after that lull season is his partnership with trainer Andy O’Brien, who works with other superstars, such as Sidney Crosby. Duchene made that switch and promptly posted 43 points in 47 games during the lockout-shortened season. But since it was only a 48-game year, there was still some question whether his rebound would continue to be so smooth. Now he has 10 goals and 17 points through his first 14 games this season and is tied in the league lead with three game-winning goals.
Another reason, apparently, is his bed. Duchene swears by his Essentia bed so much he declared to the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers in October that “every guy in the league will have one in five years.” There’s also the fact Duchene has been healthy, which has an element of luck to it.
But there’s something to be said about how much power a renewed confidence can give a player. Duchene also started seeing a sports psychologist, which he says has helped him with consistency and maintaining a level head through the rough spots of a long NHL schedule.
Duchene to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post in October:
"I was letting my confidence get shaken badly by a lot of things that maybe were a little unfair and a little tough to handle at that age. After I kind of got to that rock bottom, it was tough. I had times where I could barely look at myself in the mirror. I was kind of like a duck; I was calm on the outside, but paddling for my life underneath the surface."
Duchene, still just 22, looks like a mature and confident player today, pulling in 18:03 of ice per night and leading one of the NHL’s biggest surprise stories early in the season. He is becoming more of a lock for Team Canada’s Olympic entry with each game and is inspiring you to believe this busy Avalanche team is for real.
It’s still a long haul to the post-season, but there’s nothing Duchene would like more than to prove the prognosticators wrong and get his underdog team to the playoffs.
John Tavares did it.