Over the past year, if you’ve seen Matt Duchene’s name in a headline, it was almost certainly about a trade rumor. The 26-year old has been discussed ad nauseam as it looked like both he and the Colorado Avalanche were ready to move on. This past summer, Joe Sakic had spoken about listening to trade offers, while Duchene had discussed not having an allegiance to any particular team. His agent spoke through the media about wanting to move on and it got to the point that some suspected he wouldn’t report to Avalanche training camp.
Matt Duchene came to camp, he settled back in with his old team and he has been dominant so far this season.
The Avalanche have come out of the gates flying - surprising both fans and the media. Putting up a 4-2 record, they have looked like a completely different team than the one that embarrassed themselves last season.
One of the major reasons for the team’s early-season success has been the play of Semyon Varlamov. He’s been their most valuable player and has looked like an elite goaltender.
Outside of the crease, however, Matt Duchene has been the one that is having the biggest impact on the team’s success. He’s tied for the team lead in scoring with 6 points in three games and has been absolutely dominating his opponents while playing 5v5.
As of Sunday morning, when you look at the NHL’s even-strength scoring race, Matt Duchene sits tied for third in goals and tenth in points. He’s producing at a point per game pace and doing so without the aid of the man advantage.
He has found chemistry with Alex Kerfoot and Nail Yakupov that he hasn’t had with a linemate in a long time. The line looks dynamic and is a threat to create a scoring chance on almost every shift.
He’s not just producing offensively, Duchene is also dominating the possession game - and helping to lead to a drastically improved team defense. Duchene is playing with a 60.0 CF%, but more impressive is how well he’s shutting down opponents. His 44.45 CA/60 puts him in the top-10 for any player with more than 40 minutes of ice time.
It’s a very small sample size - I get it - but at the very least, these are all good signs.
“What if he can’t get back on track?”
“What if he sulks through the season because he doesn’t want to be in Denver?”
“Will the trade rumors be a distraction to the team?”
Duchene has answered the critics - and then some. Every time he’s in front of a microphone this season, he sounds like a leader of the team. But more importantly than all that, he looks like he’s having fun again. It’s funny how winning will do that for a player.
The team will inevitably go in a slump - they’re not going to win 4 of 6 games all season - and that will be the true test. Does he help pull them out of it, or does he shrink away like last season?
This hot start could be nothing more than building value for a trade that is still going to come. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that for right now he’s helping the Avalanche win - and helping their fans have fun.
As a 22-year old, Matt Duchene was one of the best offensive players in the NHL. He’s proving right now that he can still be that - while contributing significantly at both ends of the ice.
Joe Sakic has been criticized - by myself and many others - for holding on to Duchene the way he was. It’s now proving to be the right move. There is little doubt that the list of suitors as grown as Duchene’s play has improved. If the Avs still want to trade him, the price has almost certainly gone up with the way he’s playing. Opposing GMs were unwilling to meet the asking price because of doubt in Duchene’s play - I assume a lot of that doubt is being erased.
There’s still a decent chance Duchene moves on to a new team before the start of next season, but if that doesn’t come to fruition, I don’t think Avs fans will be too upset about it.
He looks rejuvenated, motivated and like the best player on the team - let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts. When he’s on his game, Matt Duchene is one of the most fun players to watch in the NHL, he’s proving that again right now.