Just like we’re accustomed to as fans of the Nashville Predators, this season has already had it’s share of ups and downs through the first seven games.
We can all agree that the Predators aren’t anywhere near the level they need to be at to go far in the playoffs, if they even make it that far. But there’s a couple players that are rising to the challenge to lead this team as it learns to play with each other.
Matt Duchene jumps to mind first to me after you get past the obvious choice of Filip Forsberg. Forsberg is that flashy offensive player and on the cusp of being considered an elite scoring forward in the NHL, but Duchene does so many things that don’t always jump out in the box score.
A quiet, but steady force for the Nashville Predators
Duchene doesn’t have the flashy stats this season just yet. But he’s making a huge impact in other parts of the game if you’re watching closely, and he was entering this season under a lot of pressure after what happened in his first season in Nashville.
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In last night’s shootout win for the Predators, Duchene had an impressive career milestone of his own by playing in his 800th career NHL game.
Other than Brad Richardson (815 games), that leads the Predators in an incredible display of longevity.
Duchene is being counted on by the Predators to be the reliable veteran presence that affects the game in more ways that just scoring goals. They need him to be smart with the puck and make the players around him better.
With the exception of a lazy pass that led to a breakaway goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, Duchene has been the steady force on the second line.
Duchene has managed 19 shots on goal, but just hasn’t been able to light the lamp yet with the exception of the shootout winning goal in the Predators’ most recent win over the Blackhawks:
What really jumps out to me about Duchene during the early portion of the season is he’s really a big part of getting the offense cooking at even strength. His oZS% of 71.4 is way up there, and better puck luck and bounces should be coming his way if he keeps this up.
Eventually you want to see Duchene start tallying some goals and finishing, and conventional wisdom says he’ll start finding the back of the net if he keeps doing the same things he’s been doing.
Hockey can be a cruel and unfair sport sometimes.
Impacting the game in other areas
Duchene’s possession numbers are also very solid so far with a Corsi-for of 54.1, which is way above his career average but holding steady with how he performed with Nashville last season.
People get stuck on wanting Duchene to be this massive goal scorer because he carries this big reputation and is so effortless with his puck handling, but he’s just not that type of player most of the time.
Duchene has never scored more than 31 goals in a season, which was the season before he came to Nashville in 2018-19. Before that, his ceiling in goals is in the upper-20’s.
I’d love to see him get back to that scoring efficiency, but I really want to see Duchene’s line continue to have strong shifts that gets momentum, generate prime scoring chances, draw penalties and control the offensive zone.
Duchene currently has three assists on the young season on a team that’s struggling mightily on the power play and still trying to build that chemistry with so many new players on the team.
The term “snake bitten” gets thrown around in hockey a lot for a team or player that just can’t get the puck to bounce your way, which he echoed in a postgame interview with Fox Sports Tennessee’s Lyndsay Rowley:
Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson are two other players that look “snake bitten” right now. Arvidsson’s skills don’t impact the game like Duchene’s does, but Johansen is a similar player in the sense that they both control the puck well and create scoring opportunities for their teammates regularly.
Now we just have to wait for luck to bounce their way more, and also hope that some of these players actually start finishing when they have these great looks at the net. That goes for Duchene as well.
You can’t blame it all on “bad luck’ and eventually you do have to start converting these high-danger scoring opportunities. Eventually it’ll happen for Duchene and his line.
Kunin is getting a lot of work with Duchene, so I’m interested to see if his development continues along this season, or do they make a change to a newcomer like Philip Tomasino or Eeli Tolvanen.
Duchene will be under the spotlight all season, and rightfully so with his talent and veteran experience. He’s flying under the radar with his solid play so far, and I look for him to keep that up and see more positive production come as a result of it.