Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Duchene's Slow Start: No Need To Worry


Arguably Colorado's most talented player, Matt Duchene hasn't exactly gotten off to a stellar start this season. In six games, Duchene has just one goal, two assists, and only eleven shots on goal. He ranks tenth on the team in ice time and just sixth among forwards.

Duchene's stats look even worse when compared to those of John Tavares (five goals, three assists in four games), a player whose career has paralleled Duchene's since the two were drafted as the #1 and #3 selections in the 2009 draft.

Should Avalanche fans be worried?

The answer: Not at all.

Even though fans may not approve, Duchene is a notoriously slow starter, and his NHL career is evidence of that fact.

Fans may remember his rookie year in 2009, when it took Duchene seemingly FOREVER to get that first goal. He had just three assists through the first seven games before tallying his first goal in the eighth against the Detroit Red Wings (presented by Amway). Still, Duchene continued to struggle and had just two assists in the next five games after. Then, after scoring a goal on October 30th (his second), Duchene was pointless until November 18th, a span of seven games. Overall, he had just seven points in his first 21 games. Finally, Duchene began to take off. He tallied seven goals and five assists over the next eleven games and his campaign for a Calder nomination was finally launched. Dutchy finished the year with 24 goals and 31 assists in 81 games, leading all rookies in scoring and was third in Calder Trophy voting behind Tyler Myers and (gag) Jimmy Howard. Despite the slow start, Duchene still managed to impress in his rookie season.

Being a year older and more experienced didn't help in 2010. After scoring and assisting on a goal against the Blackhawks to open the season, #9 wound up with just one goal and four assists in the first seven games. For the next thirteen games, Dutchy found a way to pick up assists (ten), but he scored just two goals. Keep in mind that this stretch took place from October 23rd to November 20th. That's a long time for a top line/second line forward not to score. True to form, however, Duchene once again shifted into a new gear. He tallied ten goals in the next twelve games, and even though the Avalanche season turned out to be dreadful, the Dutch managed to improve on his rookie totals by compiling 27 goals and 40 assists in 80 games. He improved his shot total by 22 (from 180 to 202) and recorded eleven more even strength points than the year before. Overall, many considered this to be a successful second year for the '08 #3 pick.

A quick look at Duchene's starts in the OHL also support the idea that he isn't the greatest early season performer.
In 2008-09, the Haliburton, Ontario native put up 10 points (6g/4a) in his first 11 games with the Brampton Battalion. Not bad numbers by any account, but when you consider he ended up averaging nearly 1.4 points-per-game on the season, you can see how those stats weren’t up to his personal standard.

An even better example may be the 2007-08 season, his first in the OHL. That year, Duchene totaled 10 points (6g/4a) in his first 20 games before finding his groove and netting 40 points in his last 44 contests after adjusting to playing in the OHL.
So here's an early season message to Avalanche fans:

Don't worry too much about Matt Duchene's somewhat lackluster play. The kid is entering the prime of his career, and the points will start to come soon enough (Although, based on history, probably not until sometime around mid-November).

Yes, there's going to come a time when Duchene is expected to perform for a full 82 games. The Avs have gotten off to hot starts the last few seasons, but things aren't always going to turn out that way. In years when the Avalanche struggle at the start of the season, fingers will be pointed at Duchene and his ultimate performance on the ice. He'll need to contribute early and often.

That time hasn't come yet. The Avs are winning, the team has three solid lines, and for now, Duchene can wait a little longer to start going on a tear.

But hopefully he can break free a little earlier next time around.

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