Heading into the 2021-22 season, Matt Duchene had a behemoth-sized chip on his shoulder. Not only was he left unprotected in the Seattle Expansion Draft, but he also went unclaimed, adding insult to injury. The third-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft saw his offensive numbers drop off significantly after he joined the Nashville Predators while suffering from injury problems that kept him out of the lineup for long periods.
He had five years remaining on an albatross of a contract, and no team, not even the Arizona Coyotes, was willing to take on his salary given his play in the last two seasons. All signs indicated that his style of play would continue to trend downwards, and general manager David Poile would have to consider buying him out. Instead, he remained confident Duchene could turn things around.
Duchene’s Return to Greatness
The Predators had never had a 40-goal scorer in their 23-season history before this season. As a matter of fact, it took the team 10 years before they saw one of their own reach the 30-goal mark when Jason Arnott scored 33 during the 2008-09 season. That the Predators had not one but two 40-goal scorers in the 2021-22 season is remarkable, and that Duchene was one of them surprised many.
Duchene and Filip Forsberg were neck-and-neck, out-dueling one another for the team lead in goals this season. When one got hot, the other started to pick things up. It was both encouraging and fun to watch, and Duchene’s success was one of the main catalysts to the team’s success. During March, when the team went 9-5 and was fighting for playoff positioning, Duchene came up big with 12 goals in 14 games. He eventually won the scoring race, finishing with 43 goals and atop the Predators’ leaderboard.
Duchene Stands Out in Postseason
Nashville was unfortunate to land the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To make matters worse, they were without the services of starting goaltender Juuse Saros, who suffered an ankle injury late in the season. David Rittich struggled, Connor Ingram’s best efforts weren’t enough, and the Predators were swept by the Avs. However, Duchene stood out and was by far the Predators’ best player.
In four playoff games, Duchene scored three goals and an assist. It’s not overly impressive compared to the star players on the other side, but he was one of the only Predators doing much of anything. Nashville recorded nine goals in the series, which means Duchene accounted for a third of the team’s production, and his lone assist made him part of nearly half. There are many things to knock about the team’s overall performance, including the disappearing act of certain players and that they were overpowered by a well-oiled machine, but he should be void of any blame.
Fans celebrated the team’s overall success despite their shortcomings in the postseason, and Duchene was among the most deserving of their praise. It’s hard to say anything negative about a player who hit 43 goals in 78 games and then followed it up by nearly scoring at a goal-per-game pace in the playoffs.
Duchene’s Final Grade – A+
Giving Duchene anything less than an A+ grade would be unfair to his performance this season. Given all the baggage he carried into the year, the doubters who had given up on him, the call-outs to fire him off into the sun because he makes too much money, he was in no man’s land. Yet, he worked hard during the offseason to make sure he was in top form, and it paid off.
Duchene had never hit 40 goals before this season, and he had led his team in goals only once in his 13-year career. His play without the puck was outstanding as well; many pointed out that his drive and determination in puck battles were like night and day compared to the previous two seasons. He was more engaged, hungry, and even throwing his weight around in corners. It was the Duchene the fans hoped for when he signed his long-term contract with Nashville.
The question looming is how much of this momentum will he bring into next season? He still has four years remaining on his contract and just turned 31. By the time his deal reaches its end, Duchene will be 35, and all signs pointed to a drop-off in both point production and overall play heading into the season. This season’s dominance put a fork in that road, and it’s still up in the air on how much he has left in the tank. With the uncertainty of Forsberg’s return to the team, Duchene will be counted on for next season to repeat the success of the best season of his career to date.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)