Nashville Predators: Matt Duchene Has a lot to Prove in 2021-22

Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene (95) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene (95) Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

First and foremost, let’s get one thing right — the Nashville Predators are not a worse team with Matt Duchene on the ice.

We have heard endless talk about the “Duchene curse,” but hockey is a team game, and the team did not turn their 2020-2021 season around because he missed significant time with an injury.  Rather, everyone, from coaches to players alike, improved, and continued to improve when he returned.

At the same time, the last thing I will say is that Duchene has lived up to his contract, nor will I say he has come anywhere close to it.  By and large, his time in Nashville has been a massive disappointment, and David Poile made a massive statement by leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft.

He was unsurprisingly passed on by the Seattle Kraken, and the Predators seem to have no choice but to hope Duchene gets better, or buy him out if things do not improve.

While it is easy to point the finger at Duchene for underperforming, the team’s recent trajectory and misuse of him have contributed to his disappointment.

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Where does he best fit on the Nashville Predators roster?

Duchene is still highly talented and one of the most skilled players on the Predators, and has a good chance to bounce back somewhat in 2021-2022.

As is the case with any player’s opportunities at the NHL level, everything has to be earned, and if you underperform, you are unlikely to get as much ice time as you want or expect.  But putting Duchene on the third line again is just not going to cut it.

I am not sure how John Hynes thought he would thrive alongside line-mates such as Erik Haula, Nick Cousins, and Brad Richardson.  None of those players are fast enough or talented enough to keep pace with Duchene and maximize his ability to distribute the puck, which is arguably his greatest strength as a player.

When Duchene was put on the top line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, we could easily see the difference it made.  With teammates of his caliber, he was able to create many more scoring opportunities and be much more noticeable on the ice.

It goes without saying that Duchene will have to play in a top-six role if the Predators want to get the most out of him moving forward.  I am not saying that the line of him, Forsberg, and Johansen must remain together, but Hynes must put him with players who complement his abilities.

Duchene can be deadly if he plays with a bonafide shooter such as Eeli Tolvanen.  Either way, Hynes need to figure out that while Duchene himself needs to give himself a chance to live up to his lavish contract, not putting him with the right players will rob him of that opportunity from the get-go.

Motivation can make a huge difference

Yes, every player in pro sports has to play with motivation, or else they have almost no chance of being successful at their job.  But if being left unprotected for the expansion draft does not light an extra fire under Duchene, I do not know what else will.

At this point, he knows that he isn’t in great standing within the Predators organization, or the entire league.  Poile’s decision further indicates that he is not pleased with how he has performed, and not being selected by the Kraken shows that he is regarded as an undesirable commodity nowadays.

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Duchene will certainly be on a mission to prove everyone wrong in 2021-2022, and believe it or not, that could make a huge difference.  Look at how grit and tenacity so immensely helped the Predators this past season, mainly among the youth, who wanted to prove their worth.

While Duchene is a veteran, he is in a similar situation in terms of wanting to show that he can live up to, if not exceed, expectations.  All things considered, including a positive outlook after a strong finish to the latest season, this one could be a watershed year for him.