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There has been some chatter from prominent hockey journalists that Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene may be on the move, or at the least, Colorado is listening. The veracity of these reports is not the focus here. Rather, the focus is what exactly Matt Duchene does on the ice, and how he can help teams win. Colorado is off to a rough start this year, it would seem having guys who can help win games is pretty important.
Duchene was drafted third overall in 2009, behind John Tavares and Victor Hedman. Through his first two years in the league, Duchene managed 122 points. Tavares managed 121. It is easy to see why there was a lot of hope, and hype, surrounding the young centre.
His following year was a bit of a downturn, though he was largely hindered by injuries. Over the 2012-2014 seasons, he managed 113 points in 118 games, and after a brief setback from injuries, he looked well on his way to being a superstar in the NHL. This all came to a head when he was selected for the 2014 Olympic team, and Claude Giroux was not. It was an audacious move at the time, but Duchene had played very well.
After all that success, last year was a bit of a disaster, and his point total dropped to 55 in 82 games, tying what he produced in his rookie year. At the age of 24 – about the age NHLers peak – it was fair to ask what was to become of him. So far this year, he’s replied with 15 points in 18 games.
Besides one down year, and one injured year, Duchene has had a pretty good career thus far. Since his rookie year, Duchene has been one of the top producers at five-on-five in the NHL. Not Malkin or Stamkos-territory, but still pretty good:
- From 2010-2015, spanning five seasons, Duchene managed 2.19 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That mark is just behind Corey Perry (2.22), and just ahead of John Tavares (2.15). The mark of 2.19 is top-20 in the NHL out of 143 forwards with at least 4000 minutes played. Over the last three-plus seasons – or since the start of the lockout-shortened season – that number rises to 2.37 points per 60 minutes. That total is 10th out of 149 forwards with at least 2500 five-on-five minutes played over that span, and 0.03 points per 60 minutes behind Patrick Kane. In other words, Duchene has been truly elite in his production going on four seasons now.
- One reason Duchene hasn’t really had that one massive season yet is probably ice time. Despite an extremely solid points rate, Duchene was fourth among Colorado forwards in minutes per game from 2012-now, though to be fair, it was behind Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, and Gabriel Landeskog. They’re all pretty good players in their own right, but overall, Duchene was outside the top-60 forwards in the NHL in ice time per game over that span, despite clearly being an elite producer. He was a casualty of forward depth, but it’s a factor why he hasn’t been an 80-point player yet.
The production is top-end, but the possession impact has not been. The following graph is from Domenic Galamini’s blog Own The Puck. Notice that the production is very good, but the possession numbers are not:
The CA60 – or CorsiAgainst per 60 minutes at five-on-five relative to his team – is not good. This bears out in the numbers from his teammates. The following graph is populated with data taken from Hockey Analysis, and includes Duchene’s five most common line mates (forwards only) since the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season:
A couple of things about this graph:
- The sample sizes aren’t ideal. Ryan O’Reilly is the only forward to play nearly one-third of Duchene’s minutes alongside him, and he’s in Buffalo now. With that said, every teammate fared better defensively, at least by shot attempts allowed, playing away from Duchene, save for Jamie McGinn, and the difference there is negligible.
- The sample sizes aren’t ideal because Duchene has had such a mash of line mates play with him. No player currently on the Avalanche roster has played one-third of Duchene’s five-on-five minutes since the start of that season, yet there are six forwards between 369 minutes (John Mitchell) and 860 minutes (Jamie McGinn). So there are no forwards that have played over 30-percent of Duchene’s minutes with him, but six forwards between 11.5-percent and 27-percent.
Maybe, just maybe, coach Patrick Roy should think about running some consistent lines to try to develop chemistry. I will defer, of course, to the professional here.
The production is very important here. If Duchene wasn’t capable of 70+ points, and generating offence, he wouldn’t have near the relevance he does in contrast to the defensive deficiencies. From War On Ice, he’s top-40 among 187 forwards with at least 2000 minutes played at five-on-five since the start of 2013 in scoring chance percentage relative to the team at 4.53-percent. That number is higher than Perry (4.30), Tyler Seguin (3.89), and Jonathan Toews (3.57), just to name a few. There are factors like competition that are to be included here, but considering Duchene’s lack of consistently top-end line mates, I wouldn’t read too much into that.
The biggest reason for all his production isn’t elite line mates, or soft competition, or some other factor. The biggest reason is that he’s truly one of the most talented forwards in the NHL. Watch a handful of Avalanche games, and besides Nathan MacKinnon, Duchene is the only one forward that stands out consistently. He has great speed, hands, and shot, and his ability to work in tight spaces to create something out of nothing reminds me of Gustav Nyquist, only more pronounced.
If there is any truth to the rumours that the Avalanche are listening in on trade offers for Duchene, it would seem to be a mistake. While he may be limited defensively, the ability to create and drive offence helps balance this out. He may not be in the same mould as guys like Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews, but that does not mean he’s not a number-1 centre. He didn’t end up being John Tavares, as their point totals may have indicated early on, but he’s not the problem in Colorado.