When the Colorado Avalanche hosts the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, the game will likely be dominated by one major subplot.
The contest holds a particular intrigue, as it will mark the first meeting between John Tavares (the No. 1 overall selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft) and Matt Duchene
(No. 3 overall). The pair squared off a handful of times over the past two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, with Tavares skating for the Oshawa Generals and the London Knights and Duchene suiting up for the Brampton Battalion, but it will be the first time they’ve set foot on the ice together as professionals.
“He’s an unbelievable offensive player,” said Duchene. “He broke a lot of records in the OHL and played four great years there. He’s an awesome player and a guy we’ll have to watch out for.”
Although a number of circumstances prevented them from representing Canada as teammates in international play, they formed a friendship while going through the rigorous process leading up to June’s NHL Draft, where they were considered two of the Draft’s “big three” along with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.
|Duchene and Tavares at the 2009 Upper Deck Rookie NHL Debut |
“During the Draft and the NHL Combine we roomed together,” said Duchene. “We spent a lot of time together during that process, doing a lot of interviews and other things. We became pretty good friends and it was good to get to know him.”
The success the pair saw during their days in the OHL has translated to the NHL, as Tavares and Duchene are currently the top two rookie scorers in the league. Tavares leads all first-year players in goals (16) and points (28), while Duchene sits second in points (27) and assists (16).
While the duo is often lumped together when people talk about the NHL’s top rookies, their first experiences in the league have been very different.
Tavares jumped out of the gate with 19 points (9g/10a) in his first 21 games, but is now mired in the first slump of his professional career with only one point (a goal) in his last 11 contests.
Duchene has gone the opposite way, netting 17 points (8g/9a) in his last 18 games after notching seven points (2g/5a) in his first 21 contests with Colorado.
“There can be times at any point in your career where you just have to learn and grow,” said Duchene. “For me, it was about making slightly different plays and keeping things simple. Since I’ve done that, things have gone better. Once you get a few points and things start coming offensively you start to build confidence.”
Duchene isn’t the only Avalanche player who is especially familiar with Tavares’ game. In fact, fellow rookie Ryan O’Reilly has gone head-to-head with the Islanders’ forward more often than Duchene has recently.
O’Reilly faced Tavares three times during the regular season in 2008-09 (once while he was with Oshawa, twice with London) and also played five games against him in the postseason. In addition, the pair played together at the Top Prospects Game and at the OHL All-Star Classic.
“Last year we met his team in the playoffs and at home I was matched up with him,” said O’Reilly. “I’ve played against him for quite a while now. He’s a great player and we definitely have to be aware when he’s on the ice. It should be fun to play against another young guy.”