Unlike most years, mystery and intrigue surrounded the top overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The New York Islanders weren’t tipping their hat, and three players were said to be in the mix for the No. 1 selection. When all was said and done, the Colorado Avalanche took home one of the biggest prizes in a draft considered very heavy at the top. The Islanders began the evening by selecting London Knights center John Tavares. Next, the Tampa Bay Lightning tabbed Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman in the No. 2 overall spot.
That meant the Avalanche was given the opportunity to tab Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene
with the No. 3 overall selection.
“This doesn’t even feel real. I don’t even know what’s going on right now,” said a thrilled Duchene just moments after his selection. “The Colorado Avalanche was my favorite team growing up and to be drafted by them is just unbelievable.”
The third overall pick, the club’s highest selection since moving to Denver, gave Colorado the opportunity to add an elite prospect who should be a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward.
It appears as though Duchene fits that mold perfectly.
“Matt is a very skilled, two-way player,” said Avalanche Director of Amateur Scouting Rick Pracey
. “We are very excited about adding him to our organization.”
The Haliburton, Ontario native was ranked No. 2 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in both its mid-term and final rankings, but the forward definitely saw his stock increase in the second half of the season. Considered perhaps the most complete forward in the draft, Duchene notched 79 points (31g/48a) in 57 games this past season with the Battalion.
In a welcome sight, Duchene stepped up his game when it mattered most. The center helped lead Brampton to the final round of the OHL playoffs in 2008-09, where they were defeated by the Windsor Spitfires. Duchene put on quite a show during the postseason, finishing sixth among playoff scorers with 26 points (14g/12a). Showing a knack for clutch performances, he led the OHL with six game-winning goals in the postseason while tying for the league lead with six power-play goals.
Other highlights of his season included playing in the 2009 OHL All-Star Classic, suiting up for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game and serving as captain of gold-medal-winning Team Canada at the Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
Leading up to the draft, many experts claimed that any of the top three picks this year could possibly have been the No. 1 overall selection in a different draft class.
Needless to say, Duchene brings a number of skills, both tangible and intangible, to the Avalanche’s organization.
Known as perhaps the most complete player available in this year’s draft, Duchene is equally dangerous killing a penalty as he is quarterbacking a power play. To illustrate that point, he tied for Brampton’s team lead in both power-play (12) and short-handed (4) goals.
is a pure offensive player who also is a great penalty killer. He helps the Brampton Battalion in all facets of the game,” said NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire
. “A pure sniper, he plays the point on the power-play and is a threat to score on the penalty kill as well.”
Duchene has not only impressed NHL scouts and general managers, but also his opposition in the Ontario Hockey League.Cameron Gaunce
, Colorado’s top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, knows Duchene’s strengths and weaknesses as a player as well as anyone. Gaunce, a defenseman who plays for the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, has skated against Duchene and the Battalion for the past two years. The two players met up 14 times this season alone, including six games when the teams faced each other in the quarterfinals of the OHL Playoffs.
Gaunce and Duchene have also been teammates at all-star games in the past and played summer hockey together at times.
“Duchene is a tough player to go up against. He’s fast, can stickhandle and is very shifty,” said Gaunce. “He scored a lot of goals this year that nobody else would have been able to score.”
The big question seems to be if Duchene will play for the Avalanche next season, or if he will return to Brampton for one more year. For his part, the forward is keeping a positive attitude and an open mind.
“I think I’m pretty close. I’m not going to know for sure until I get to camp and see what it’s all about, but ultimately it’s not my decision,” said Duchene.
And if it’s decided that another year playing junior hockey will be to his benefit, Duchene is just fine with that scenario as well.
“You know what? I’ve got a great team to go back to in Brampton if that’s the case.”
Author: Craig Stancher