Nashville Predators: Making Sense of Matt Duchene’s Red Hot Start

Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene (95) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene (95) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been a troubling theme for the Nashville Predators not having top veterans produce at a level that meets their contract, and no one has more fit into that negative light than Matt Duchene.

Ever since Duchene came to the Nashville Predators on a massive $56M contract in the summer of 2019, he’s been under enormous pressure to live up to the contract. At the time I vividly remember the fanbase being split on their feelings about this major acquistion.

A portion of the fanbase loved the idea of signing a possible elite caliber center, which has always eluded this franchise. Another segment didn’t like the long-term contract because Duchene has always been considered by many as overrated or streaky.

Duchene’s time with the Nashville Predators has always been clouded with uncertainty and doubt

Over this past offseason pretty much everyone was trying to figure out some way that the Predators could unload Duchene to another team. Even the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft as he was left unprotected, while the young Tanner Jeannot was protected.

Protecting Jeannot over Duchene was no doubt the right move, but no team was ever going to take on his $8M lengthy contract that runs through 2025-26. Like it or not, the Predators and Duchene are stuck with each other and might as well make the best of it, right?

All of this is to say that Duchene’s time has had it’s extreme low points, and at best had it’s quick moments of greatness, like the overtime game-winner to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs last season:

I bring this goal up because Duchene literally just scored in almost exact same fashion to beat Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks in Friday night’s win. That goal tied the score at 2-2, and was Duchene’s fifth goal of the season. He’s at 10 points overall in 11 games.

Duchene hasn’t been shy about getting aggressive on the offensive rush while also making his linemates better around him. The critics will tell you that it’s just another example of him being a streaky player, and that’s why he has to keep this up for much more than just 11 games in October and November.

What’s changed that’s fueling Duchene’s early success?

I’m prefacing this all by saying that obviously it’s still very early, and Duchene has shown in the past that he can go on disappearing acts. The Predators can’t afford to see that now with Filip Forsberg out with an upper-body injury for an unknow amount of time.

Incredibly, Duchene didn’t score his fifth goal last season until the final game of the 56-game regular season, which he tallied two goals in a meaningless game for the standings.

This is why seeing Duchene be so aggressive in his offensive play is very eye-opening. He’s on pace for over 37 goals if he can keep up this goal efficiency, which would be an enormous turn of events for his career path with the Predators.

Duchene has never scored more than 31 goals in a season, and the Predators have never had a season goal scorer go over 34, which was Viktor Arvidsson in 2018-19.

Another key area that’s obvious is Duchene is shooting more. He’s got 37 shots on goal through the first 11 games, which is way ahead of his career average pace. His career high in shots on goal is 217 in 2013-14, a season when he finished with 70 points and even got some votes for the Hart Trophy.

Diving even deeper, Duchene’s possession metrics are also extraordinary right now and he’s sitting at a 62.8 Corsi-for and a 73.8 offensive zone start percentage, both well above his career averages.

It’s a red hot pace on so many levels that you just hope isn’t fool’s gold for Duchene. After all, it’s still a very small sample size at 11 games.

Duchene has been playing with Mikael Granlund more this season, which I think is extremely beneficial to maximizing his production level. They mesh with each other very well, and Head Coach John Hynes needs to keep them together, and Duchene on the wing, as much as possible.

Related Story. Which Players Have Been Bright Spots for Preds Early On?. light

Of course you’d be insane to think Duchene is going to finish with 70 points this season like he did the season before he came to Nashville, but he can absolutely finish with 60-plus and get closer to living up to his contract.

This is such a welcome sight to see Duchene playing freely and with an aggressive style that looks laser focused. He’s heard the outside noise and negative criticism, and understands it’s now time to rectify his time in Nashville.

If Duchene can keep up this level of production and leadership, the Nashville Predators can hang in the playoff race and end up having a better year than many probably expected coming into it.