After having two great seasons with the Colorado Avalanche to start his career in 2009-10 and 2010-11, Matt Duchene dealt with some growing pains last season along with serious knee and ankle injuries.
Last season as a whole was tough on the Avalanche, but it was even tougher for the 22-year-old Duchene. After coming off a 2010-11 season in which he had 67 points (27 goals and 40 assists), Duchene played in only 58 games the following season, including about 19 of them on an injured knee.
Last year, Duchene had just four points from Feb. 19 to the end of the year. He even spent time on the team’s fourth line as he struggled to find his game.
“It was real frustrating, but I learned a lot,” Duchene told Adrian Dater of the Denver Post back in June.
Instead of getting down on himself, Duchene took the high road and did everything he could to get his game back to where it belongs. This off-season, he trained with Pittsburgh Penguins franchise player Sidney Crosby, changed up his diet and, during the lockout, kept active with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Elite League and HC Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss National League A.
Because of this hard work, it appears Duchene has found his game again and has done so in a big way.
Duchene leads the team in scoring with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points in 18 games. Duchene is playing with confidence, strength and is showing why the team took him with the third overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Duchene is also showing a newfound leadership quality. Duchene’s leadership stems from the team’s struggling ways this season.
The team is currently 13th in the Western Conference and four points out of the eighth spot. After back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks a few weeks ago, Duchene expressed his frustration to Ryan Boulding of Mile High Sports:
“It’s painful right now. Same story every night. We’re bringing it five-on-five and playing well five-on-five, but we can’t seem to find a win in those games. It’s the same story,” Duchene told Boulding. “We’ve got to figure out a way to score. It’s the bottom line. We’ve been shutout three times in 10 games, it’s unacceptable. That’s almost 50 per cent of the games we’re getting shutout in. It’s a joke.”
Duchene has also been vocal when it comes to recently re-signed restricted free agent forward Ryan O’ Reilly. O’Reilly signed a two-year, $10-million deal with the Avalanche, leaving several to wonder what will be available when Duchene’s contract runs out in 2014.
During the off-season, Duchene signed a two-year, $7-million deal with the team. Duchene told Terry Frei of the Denver Post that he would have handled the situation much different that O’Reilly did while also explaining to Frei why he made the decision that he did.
“Paychecks are great. You want to get as much money as you can in this game, but for me, I love this game so much, I love this team and this franchise and this city, there’s no way I could have held out. I’m not saying what (O’Reilly) is doing is wrong or right. It’s his own business and we’re going to leave it at that, but when you ask me about the contrast, when that was your question to me, that was what was behind my decision.”
If Duchene continues his strong play and continues to be a leader for this Avalanche hockey club, Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman better be ready to pay him because Duchene will more than likely be worth it in the end as both a great hockey player and a voice of leadership and reason in the Avalanche locker room.