I highly recommend watching the videos that go along with this post. They’re a touch ridiculous.
The NHL is home to a seemingly endless supply of ridiculously talented hockey players. From first-to-fourth liners, pretty much everyone was the best player on their minor hockey teams, or at least among the best, all the way through to junior. And once there, NHL muckers and grinders were all-stars. Dan Cleary had a 115 point junior season. Blake Comeau easy eclipsed 100 points twice. Hell, Arron Asham had back to back 90+ point seasons playing for the Red Deer Rebels, while Vern Fiddler hit triple digits in Medicine Hat. You could play this game for months.
So to look good at the NHL level – to have your skills be noticeably, appreciably better than players who’ve been the best at many respected levels is pretty incredible. Which is why I’m writing an ode to Matt Duchene today.
Someone made the comparison the other day, I believe it was Avalanche fan @AnthraxJones, between Duchene and Pavel Bure, and I thought it was pretty apt. Both are extremely dynamic offensive players, both use their crazy speed to challenge opponents one-on-one, and both are just entirely electric. They can embarrass you at any given moment. Trying to contain them is about as easy as trapping the Tasmanian Devil with a refrigerator box.
Duchene’s greatest gift is probably his first two-to-three steps, which allow him to get up to (a very impressive) top speed while long-legged slugs scramble to get their limbs working in the same direction. His ability down low with possession is borderline unfair. There’s a drill hockey schools put kids through in the summer that involves one kid doing Gretzky shuffles back and forth, hitting the ice, backing up, and moving forward while his partner tries to mirror those movements. Matt Duchene would render that game utterly pointless with his ability to change direction.
But enough with the words: here’s a reminder of what I’m talking about.
Remember when Jordan Leopold tried to play the mirror game with Duchene out of the corner last year? Good job, good effort.
I realize the next goal isn’t against the greatest strength of competition, but just consider how high the quality of defender has to be to contain a kid who has the ability to do the below. The difficulties with containment are monstrous. Please feel free to note that the finish isn’t just stuffed under the tender and lucky, it’s kissed off the crossbar and down.
Having an unreasonable amount of skill doesn’t necessarily translate to pure points as a lot of people assume, as it takes a brain to know how to utilize the gifts you’ve been given (which explains why a lot of talented kids fail). You could put me in a room full of tools with a broken radio for a week and you’re never hearing a sound out of that thing again. Just because things are possible doesn’t mean you can execute them. You have to know what you’re doing, and you have to know what the tools do.
Where I’m going with that is, I’m not sure if Matt Duchene will ever be a 100 point guy in the NHL. I don’t know if he’ll figure out how to utilize his linemates the way the Sedins do (well, he won’t get to that level regardless, but you know what I’m saying). But like Bure, this is a guy you can put in a room with a metaphorical broken radio and he’ll emerge with a spaceship. He can make something from seemingly nothing, like one-on-two and two-on-three rushes.
He takes the puck right at guys, because he knows he can beat them.
What can happen with guys like that, is that coaches lose patience with them, because for every successful dangle comes a few oopsies, and over-protective coaches (which most of them are) will start to say they can’t trust them. They’ll sit them on the bench as Joe Sacco did with Duchene before he needed to come up with a “comeback year,” a preposterous concept for a kid who was still playing at an absurdly high level and should’ve been allowed to make a few mistakes.
What a kid – and I keep saying kid because Matt Duchene is 22-freaking-years-old until January even though he’s entering his fifth NHL season – like that needs is a coach like Patrick Roy, who will preach defense but let him play, because he’s got the sense to realize people who do things like the below are special.
If that were him in a class learning math, the teacher would have to move him up a grade or put him in advanced classes because he’s not even being challenged. He scored 51 times over his first two years, and was already at 17 in a 47 game season last year.
There aren’t really a ton of comparables around the league for Duchene. Patrick Kane possesses the hands (Kane’s might be even better) and maybe the ability to change direction the way Duchene does, but even his great first three strides don’t touch the Avs’ #9. Phil Kessel has a better shot and might be able to match his top speed, but he isn’t nearly as good with in-zone possession. And a guy like John Tavares might be his polar opposite: Tavares is cerebral and handsy, versus the Fred Astaire footwork Duchene offers.
I don’t know what Matt Duchene will become, because at every level he’s ever played he’s been extremely young and extremely good, but never physically on the level of his opposition. Over the next year-or-five, it’s going to be interesting to see if he’s able to take his game to a level beyond what he’s achieved in the past. He wants to be one of the game’s greats.
By all accounts, he’s hockey-obsessed. He’s got a bit of Rain Man in him when it comes to knowing what sticks and curves guys around the league use. He watches hockey, he’s consumed by it, and those are all positive signs if you’re forecasting his future.
All I know is players who can do what you’re about to watch below are on a different level than the vast majority of pro hockey players on Earth. The skill and smarts necessary to execute it are reflective of what makes Duchene unique. His highlight portfolio is just getting started, and I expect it to be pretty thick by the time he hangs up his skates.