The Colorado Avalanche are performing well beyond the expectations of everybody in the NHL. The team that has three top-three overall draft picks in the past five years finally seems to be turning the corner in what was the lowest point in the franchise since the Quebec Nordiques selected first-overall for three straight years. The team, as a whole, is playing much better under Patrick Roy and the attitude of the whole organization has changed with Joe Sakic in the front office. Even with all of these great improvements, the one player who has elevated himself the most is Matt Duchene.
Answering the Bell
Matt Duchene had a solid start to his career. He led rookies in scoring during his first season and was a Calder Finalist. His second season went even better, seeing Duchene improve his goal totals and lead the Avalanche in scoring with 67 points. After this solid improvement, Duchene stood on the edge of stardom in the NHL, only to see his third year derailed. Duchene still played in most of the games for the Avalanche, but played the majority of the second half of the season on an injured ankle, and his stats suffered badly as a result. Suddenly, there were questions about whether or not Duchene would be cut out for the NHL. Duchene heard the criticism, and rather than stand pat, he did something about it.
Between his third and fourth season, Matt Duchene began to change a lot. He changed his workout habits by teaming up with Sidney Crosby and his trainer, Andy O’Brien. Duchene changed his diet, cutting out gluten which helped him lose weight but maintain his muscle. Quite literally, Duchene became leaner and meaner. If that wasn’t enough, Duchene also started seeing a sports psychologist to help even him out mentally. Now Duchene was poised physically and mentally to take the next step.
These changes revitalized Duchene and he came out guns blazing in his fourth season, the shortened lockout season. Duchene played 47 of the 48 games and was a different player. He still had his speed and elusive ability, but he was even faster. Not only that, but suddenly Duchene wasn’t just fast, he was powerful. Duchene took his newfound abilities and started to dominate. In his 47 games, Duchene tallied 43 points and tied for the team lead in scoring.
Matt Duchene has always been the type of player that could change a game, but the last couple of years we have seen him be able to do it in different ways. When Duchene first broke into the league. if the situation was right, Duchene would be able to put together a highlight reel type of goal.
The transformation that we have seen with Duchene in the past couple of seasons is that Duchene has now become the type of player that is able to impose his will on the opposing team. You think you have him, but then he sees the space in the ice that he wants to go to and just forces his way there. A couple of season ago, Duchene just plain wasn’t strong enough, but now, you just try and stop him.
The kind of speed and strength that he has now makes him the type of player that teams have a ton of trouble with, which Duchene is once again showing this season. Just 16 games in, and Duchene is tied for fourth in the league in goals scored with 11. He is also only four points behind Steven Stamkos for the league lead in points. These are all numbers that the Avalanche had been hoping Duchene could put up and is now finally the type of player that the Avalanche hoped he would turn into. The type of player who sees three players in front of him, but is still able to speed and power his way through because he can.
The big reward came for Duchene during the past offseason when he signed his big contract extension. The Avalanche saw the kind of work he put into becoming this player and they rewarded him for it. Duchene is going to see several All Star games with this type of play as well. He already has one appearance, but with this type of production, he’s going to be a mainstay amongst the biggest names in the league.
Matt Duchene may also begin to take home some hardware. As it currently stands, Duchene has 19 points in 16 games. This puts him on pace for 97 points. Players that rack up these kinds of points find themselves with a lot of trophies in their hands at the end of the year. If the Avalanche hadn’t been a basement dwelling team a season ago, you could have made a serious case for Duchene as a Hart Trophy candidate. If things keep going the way they are for the Avalanche this season, you could make the same case.
Perhaps the most honorable reward that can come from this fantastic season will show up in mid-February. Matt Duchene is making one heck of a case for himself for the Canadian National Team for the Sochi Olympics. At the start of the season, it seemed that the only way Duchene was going to make the team would have been as a winger, but Duchene’s year might just power him into a center position on Team Canada. Heck, Duchene even has Don Cherry telling the world that Matt Duchene is the best hockey player in the league right now.
All of these things have combined to make one unmistakable fact. Matt Duchene has crossed the threshold into NHL superstardom.