After leading the team in points and goals his sophomore year, expectations for Matt Duchene's 3rd NHL season were high. However, after a slow start and serious knee and ankle injuries, Duchene finished 2012 with 39 points fewer than the year before. Matt Duchene will likely be one of the most difficult Avalanche players to grade this offseason, because although his drop in production visibly hurt the team, injuries and linemates, which were out of Duchene's control, played a huge role in his drop in production. Missing 24 games in a year is enough to throw off any player's routine, but it is important to remember that Duchene is a traditionally slow starter who's injuries occurred during what is normally his most productive part of the season. Duchene played 19 of his 58 games on an injured knee, scoring only 2 goals and 2 assists from February 19th to the end of the year. Add the number of games where Duchene played on the 4th line, or out of position on the left wing and it's difficult to fairly evaluate Duchene on a 58 game scale.
Circumstances aside, Duchene posted career lows in Goals, Points, +/-, Games Played and Shooting Percentage but still managed to finish sixth in team scoring. Duchene matched his career high for Game Winning Goals and more than double his power play production from last season, scoring 5 of his 14 goals with the man advantage. It's clear that the Avalanche's speedy young center has incredible hands and speed so it's likely that a healthy Matt Duchene will rebound next season. For all his struggles, Duchene worked hard to improve his defensive game and played through serious injuries in an attempt to help his team make the playoffs.
2012 Outlook: No doubt the Avs will re-sign Matt Duchene this summer, however, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he receives after such a low scoring season. Matt Duchene will likely be compared to fellow 2009 draftee and 1st overall pick John Tavares. The Islanders recently rewarded Tavares with a 6 year deal averaging $5.5 million per year. However, considering Duchene's offensive struggles and the Avalanche's reluctance to commit to players long term we'll likely see him return to the Avs for less years and less money than Tavares. A three year deal would preserve Duchene's RFA status, but if Duchene bounces back, it could give him the negotiating leverage to make Kroenke's head spin.
Cole's Take: I'll be interested to see how the Avs play this off, gamble now and reward Duchene with a long term deal in the 4-5 million dollar range, or sign him short term and risk overpaying later. Regardless, it was a terrible year for the young center, but hopefully one he learned a lot from. I have no doubt that Matt Duchene has the skill set to be an All-Star forward for the Avalanche in years to come, but he needs to learn how to make his game fit with the team's system. Duchene should shed some of the muscle mass he put on for the 2012 season and get back to the speed game that was so successful in his first two years. That said, I think he rebounds for a solid 65-75 point season in 2013. (Also, please ditch the mustache Matty)
Sean's Take: First off, make sure you keep voting for his top plays on TSN (he’s got two in the running – and both have already made it past the first round). As for his season, a lot of my friends here in DC – all Washington Capitals fans – have been asking me if Duchene has the maturity to back up his insane skillset. I’ll keep the answer simple: not at all. But wait, that’s the short answer – I sincerely believe all we have seen here is an injury-ridden, junior slump from the Haliburton hotshot. Even on his laziest nights, his body language is still more prominent than, say, Alexander Radulov’s in half the games he’s played in the NHL. Still, I do think Adrian Dater has a point when he talks about complacency and I won’t rule it past Matt to take an extra year, or two or three or four, to develop mentally. I know we sometimes call him out within the game threads but, for goodness sake, using his age as an excuse really is just fine. He won’t be a finished product, but I can't wait to see the strides he makes next season. Bring the pain, Matt Duchene.