But with all of that, Duchene was revitalitzing his NHL career at age 30, and now 31, entering what will be his fourth season on an eight-year contract that has always drawn plenty of ire from Predators fans.
Matt Duchene stepped up big for Nashville Predators
Look, Duchene was no scrub before this past season. In fact, he was pretty darn good. The problem was, he was constantly being stacked up against a lucrative contract that’s usually only handed out to elite superstars. That’s where the source of the frustration came from, and not necessarily that Duchene was just a complete bust.
No player on this team, aside from maybe Juuse Saros in his first full season as the primary starter in net without Pekka Rinne, was facing more pressure entering last season. The spotlight was on Duchene after seeing what he did in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes.
If you remember, Duchene was instrumental in the Predators at least pushing the Hurricanes to six games while scoring the game-winning overtime goal in Game 3. Ultimately he’d finish with three points in that six-game series.
Duchene’s pre-game ritual of sitting on the bench alone has always been something that has intrigued me. It shows his passion for the game and something he has always carried with him while being with the Nashville Predators.
You saw Duchene’s impact nearly every game last season. There was never a long stretch of the season where you thought Duchene was fading and becoming a non-factor again. Jackie Redmond of NHL Network noticed the same thing back in March:
Just me or has Matt Duchene has been ALL over this game !!?
And I don’t just mean on the scoresheet.
That dude has brought the intensity all night and has been engaged in everything, even from the bench. #Preds fans must love this guy this year.
— Jackie Redmond (@Jackie_Redmond) March 20, 2022
What does the future hold for Duchene?
So what got into Duchene this past year that he was able to eleveate his level of play to a career high point total? Well, a big part of the equation was finding effective linemates for him to play with.
Seeing Duchene and Forsberg build that undeniable chemsitry over the course of the season was so fun to watch. Two players completely in sync with each other, and was a major factor as to why the Predators exceeded preseason predictions.
Duchene crushed his career high in goals with 43. His previous career high was just 31 goals set the season before he was acquired by Nashville.
This is absolutely why, among several reasons, that if you’re David Poile and the Nashville Predators front office you have to pull out all the stops to ensure Forsberg re-signs here and isn’t lost in free agency.
Duchene needs Forsberg. If Forsberg is gone, then it feels like a 100 percent certainty that Duchene’s production will drastically drop off. If they remain together, maybe we can get an encore of another extremely productive season from these two.
This is all while realizing the craziness that Duchene was left exposed in the Seattle expansion draft. At the time no one actually thought that the Kraken would take him and his large contract, but the story itself is pretty incredible. An exposed expansion draft player went on to set career highs at age 30 in goals, points, shooting percentage and shots on goal.
Not only is re-signing Forsberg imperative, but the Predators also need to aggressively pursue another forward free agent to upgrade the top part of the roster as part of their offeseason plans. That can complete your top-six, while most likely leaving Forsberg, Duchene and Mikael Granlund together as a line.
It will be telling what the front office does in free agency as they try to build off the regular season success while closing the large gap between them in teams like the Colorado Avalanche. You have to build around players like Duchene.
The intangibles that Duchene displayed all season was also something you can’t overlook. He was laser focued every game, passionate, showed leadership qualities. The whole nine yards. You can tell he’s fully invested as a leading veteran to make good on the lucrative contract Poile gave him in the summer of 2019.
Duchene still has more to prove going into next season, and beyond, but there’s reason for a whole lot of optimism that he can continue to be a highly productive player throughout his contract.