Duchene played on Columbus’s top line with Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin.
For the second time in his career, Matt Duchene played his first game after being traded against his former team. The first time he had five days to get acquainted with his new team before facing off against his old teammates. This time, however, he had just a few hours.
The Blue Jackets acquired Duchene in a trade with the Senators Friday afternoon and the center’s equipment was packed up in the Ottawa locker room and walked down the hallway so he could suit up in blue on Friday night. The Blue Jackets defeated the Senators, 3–0.
The 28-year-old was traded to the Senators in November 2017 from the Avalanche and played 118 games for Ottawa. Duchene was traded mid-game when Colorado was playing the Islanders and he snuck off the ice in the first period as the deal went down. He dressed for the Senators five days later in Sweden when they faced off against the Avalanche in the NHL Global Series.
“Things like this happen to me, I guess. I wasn’t that surprised when I heard,” Duchene told the TSN broadcast following the first period on Friday.
Lined up at center ice for the opening faceoff, Duchene was placed on Columbus’s top line with wingers Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. “I looked to my left and my right and saw those two guys on my wing, it was pretty exciting to play with those guys,” Duchene told TSN.
The new Blue Jacket didn’t look completely adjusted on the ice, which is to be expected, but he managed to get three shots on goal while playing just over 19 minutes, with about five of those coming on the power play.
After Duchene’s first shift, former teammate Brady Tkachuk gave Duchene a few playful jabs as he tried to get back on the Columbus bench. “I was just dying laughing,” Duchene said of Tkachuk.
Although the crowd booed during his first couple of shifts, Ottawa fans gave a standing ovation when the Senators played a video tribute for Duchene during the first TV timeout of the game.
Now with his first game out of the way, Duchene, who will make his debut in Columbus on Saturday, should be a huge boost for the Blue Jackets. Adding the skilled center is a sign that Columbus might shoot for a playoff run with Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, who are both free agents this summer, in tow. Following Friday’s trade, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters he is maintaining the same approach in trade negotiations for Panarin and will only do it if there is a substantial return.
Duchene, who is also a free agent this summer, said he has no intentions right now about what he might do regarding an extension, but Kekalainen said he has “accepted the risk that [Duchene] could just be a rental.”
Regardless of what happens, the Blue Jackets have filled a big hole in their roster and can make some serious noise to close out the season as Columbus searches for its first playoff series win. In a wide-open Metropolitan Division, just six points separate the division-leading Islanders from the Penguins in the wild-card spot.
"We have a good team and we want to win this spring," Kekalainen told NHL.com. "We want to win. We want to prove to our fan base that we are serious about winning and we are in to win it.”