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What is Matt Duchene’s upside this season?

The Colorado Avalanche forward is looking rejuvenated this season, but what can we expect the rest of the way?

Colorado Avalanche v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Can he keep it up? For all of the trade speculation we’ve had to endure over the last few months, it all really hinged on the valuation of Matt Duchene. And now that the Avs are starting strong, their success is also relying on the scoring of the talented centerman. So, with the Avs clicking better than most people expected, what is Duchene’s point-scoring upside this year?

Here’s a quick list of his career totals:

09-10: 24G, 31A - 55P

10-11: 27G, 40A - 67P

11-12: 14G, 14A - 28P (58 GP)

12-13: 17G, 26A - 43P (47 GP)

13-14: 23G, 47A - 70P

14-15: 21G, 34A - 55P

15-16: 30G, 29A - 59P

16-17: 18G, 23A - 41P

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Even before the disaster that was 2016-17, Duchene had declined from his 65-70-point pace plateau to a new one in the 55-60-point range. Looking at line combinations, there may be an obvious reason:

  • His highest totals in 2013-14 were coming when almost 70% of his ice time was spent with Ryan O’Reilly, a perennial dynamic 60-point player.
  • His lower plateau in 2014-15 came with nearly 45% of his time spent with Jarome Iginla, and most of that time also spent with McGinn or Tanguay. Slightly different quality than O’Reilly.
  • His lowest ever totals in 2016-17 came with more line combinations than I can fit on a screenshot, with the most common names alongside him being Nieto, Rantanen, and Landeskog. At the time, Landeskog was the most talented of this group, but was still only a 50-point-player the year before. And yes, Duchene’s shooting percentage was normal in this terrible year, so there wasn’t an anomaly there.

The point here is that when determining his success this year, his linemates are going to play a big role, both by their talent and their ability to stay as a line rather than getting shuffled every 15 minutes.

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So far this season, Duchene’s even-strength ice time look like this:

68%: Duchene-Kerfoot-Yakupov

7.5%: Duchene-Andrighetto-Rantanen

No other lines >2%

(All line combo stats courtesy of FrozenPool by DobberHockey)

So its safe to say that Duchene is going to have significantly more stability than last year, which in my opinion will give any player a small point boost due to chemistry.

But when it comes to line talent, he still lacks what he had at his point-producing-peak. Yakupov is off to a fantastic start and could be rebooting his career, but he’s also never exceeded the 35-point threshold. Kerfoot is also playing much better than pundits predicted, but expecting a rookie to score more than 30-40 points is a big ask.

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Add two more variables into the equation:

  • Duchene is shooting close to 18% so far this campaign, (compared to a career average in the 11-12% range),
  • Yakupov is shooting 20% (after 3 consecutive years below 9%)

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Unfortunately, I think its fair to think we may be seeing the best version of Duchene we will see this year. Both he and Yakupov seem doomed to come down to Earth in their shooting metrics, and we have historical evidence telling s Duchene has been most successful with high-scoring linemates.

It's still a no-brainer to expect a bounce back from last year, especially considering the line stability that he sorely lacked in 2016-17. If I were a betting man I’d wager that Duchene returns to his 55-point form, but I don’t see any evidence that can achieve his 70-point peak unless he stumbles into more time with MacKinnon (or Forsberg, or Atkinson, or Aho...)

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What would you peg as Duchene’s upside this year? Am I being too harsh on a former star?