Perhaps no player has been under more fire around the Nashville Predators organization than Matt Duchene has been for the past two years. The man who came to the team two offseasons ago at an $8M per year rate did not come close to living up to expectations in his first two seasons, and it was looking like David Poile made a huge mistake bringing him in. Well, that was until this year.
What we are seeing from Duchene this year is a dramatic turnaround. The man is off to a white-hot start, averaging a point per game with nine goals and seven assists.
To put that into perspective, he had six goals in 34 games last year and 13 in 66 games the year prior. What is even more impressive is that he is doing this without Filip Forsberg and is turning in his best performances in that time.
It has been made absolutely clear that the “Duchene curse” is not actually a real thing, because he is thriving on a team whose goals are set for the future. And it is not as if he is being coached by an offensive genius in Nashville.
What is clear is the guy has incredible talent because he is a great distributor, he can shoot as well, and he seems to be in the right place at the right time, with the number of goals he scores in the high percentage slot. The question is why did it take him two years to finally start living up to his contract?
It was particularly easy to point the finger at Duchene in the two seasons prior because he had always seemed to find himself on a bad team for several consecutive seasons and was doing little to help the Predators. But in all honesty, many of Duchene’s problems were due to the team and not him.
Let’s not sugarcoat it, the Predators were in a state of turmoil from November 2019 to March 2021. Almost none of the core players were playing consistently well except Roman Josi, and there was just constant instability on the ice and within the organization.
John Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette in early January 2020, and once he came in, he could never figure out consistent lines, which remains somewhat of an issue to this day. And with how COVID-19 affected the sports world in 2020, Duchene just never had a chance to get into a rhythm with anyone that year, and certainly did not at the start of 2020-2021.
Not only that, but once Duchene returned from a long-term injury in April 2021, he was consistently playing bottom-six minutes. It was extremely boggling to see him play alongside Erik Haula, Nick Cousins, and even Brad Richardson on some nights. There were several times in which he generated a good scoring chance in front of the net, but nobody was there to receive the puck.
This season though, all of those concerns have been reduced, if not eliminated. The Predators got a normal offseason in 2021, which included usual training camp, a preseason, and more important than anything, while they are still recovering from the fallout of the 2017-2019 era, their recent moves indicate that they are embracing a new direction with their youth.
While Hynes has still done some shuffling with the lines, one thing he has consistently done is keep Duchene in a top-six role. It even shows with his ice time, as he is averaging 19:07 this year, compared to 15:50 and 16:53 the years prior.
It is clearly making a difference, as he is developing some serious chemistry with Mikael Granlund and Luke Kunin and making plays happen on a nightly basis. He is as visible on the ice as he has been since joining the Predators, and even when they got shut out on Tuesday night, he had a chance and hit the post, which was maybe the best look they had all night.
Has one month of this level of play proven that Duchene is completely worth his contract? Of course not, he has to be able to sustain this all the way through. But with what he has at his disposal now, there is a good chance that it is going to continue.
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