Battalion Breakdown is a closer look at the Blue Jackets' past season on a player-by-player basis. Today, BlueJackets.com continues the series by looking at Matt Duchene's season and how it impacted Columbus in the 2018-19 campaign.
Birth date: Jan. 16, 1991
Height/Weight: 5-11, 195
Stats (Games, G-A-P, point shares): 73 GP, 31-39-70, 7.7 PS (23 GP, 4-8-12, 0.9 PS with CBJ)
Contract: Unrestricted free agent
Well, what a wild ride that turned out to be.
In some ways it would be hard to write the script Duchene followed upon being acquired from Ottawa by the Blue Jackets. Long coveted by the team, he merely had to walk down the hall when the trade went down, as Columbus was in Ottawa to play the Senators.
He then was a key piece to the puzzle in the playoffs as Columbus won its first-ever series, including two game-winning goals in the Boston series. Along the way, he fell in love with the city and its fans, repeatedly talking about how blown away he was with the support and atmosphere he and his family encountered in the capital city.
CBJ fans wonder what's next as he enters unrestricted free agency. Time will tell, but it appeared he was a fit in Columbus.
Entering the season: Duchene has long been thought of as an impact player in the NHL, all the way back to when he was the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft, then totaled 55 points in his first pro season with a playoff-bound Avs team.
While superstardom has eluded him, Duchene has settled into being one of the top centers in the NHL, averaging 25 goals and 60 points per year coming into the season. But there was a question about how Ottawa would fare, as he was a big-ticket acquisition early last season after the Sens went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016-17 only to struggle to a seventh-place finish in the Atlantic Division last season.
What happened: Well, things just never came together for Ottawa, which was above .500 for just a single game of the 2018-19 season at 4-2-1. While Duchene and teammates Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone had little trouble scoring, the Sens just couldn't keep the puck out of their net and ended up in last place by the New Year.
By the time a five-game losing streak left the team 19-29-5 in mid-January, it seemed clear a fire sale of those top three scorers -- all unrestricted free agents-to-be -- was on the table, and Duchene was first to go, being dealt to Columbus the morning of the teams' Feb. 22 game in Ottawa.
While flashes of skill were evident -- think his sharp-angle goal in the 2-1 OT loss March 16 at Boston -- Duchene didn't quite jell with the team during the regular season. He bounced often between lines as the team went through a scoring slump in March and finished with a 4-8-12 line in 23 games after posting 27-31-58 in 50 games with the Sens.
But Duchene got a bit hot during the stretch run -- he had five assists in three games vs. the Islanders, Montreal and Nashville in the midst of a critical five-game winning streak -- then had 10 points in 10 playoff games to answer critics who pointed out he'd never been on a team to win a playoff series. That included a four-point showing during the Game 2 win at Tampa, then back-to-back game-winning goals in the Boston series.
When it was all over, he professed to have enjoyed his journey to Columbus.
"Unbelievable group of guys," he said on exit day. "The culture here is great. It's a winning culture top to bottom. There's not one aspect that you go, 'OK, this needs to change, this needs to be better.' I was blown away by it.
"As far as the city and the fans, just wow, I did not expect that. Amazing city. Great fan base. Simple as that. That experience that we just had and for me, that's definitely right up there with some of my best memories and my best experiences I've had playing hockey."
Duchene's double-overtime winner in Game 2 at Boston will go down as one of the highlights of the Blue Jackets season, even being duplicated by his biggest (and smallest) fanin northern Ohio. Duchene batted home a rebound on the power play then dropped to his knees in celebration as the Jackets left Boston in the second round with an opening split.
Video: CBJ@BOS, Gm2: Duchene wins it in 2OT on power play
By the Numbers
5: Duchene scored five goals during the playoffs, and both he and Artemi Panarin set a new Blue Jackets record with their goal totals in single postseason.
8.7: Duchene's shooting percentage of 8.7 percent upon joining the Blue Jackets hints at perhaps some bad luck, as he has been a 12.3-percent shooter during his NHL career. He talked often about not being surprised about the adjustment to Columbus, so it seems the four goals in 23 games was a bit of an anomaly when it comes to his production.
55.9: The centerman won 55.9 percent (203-160) of his draws during the regular season with the Blue Jackets, giving head coach John Tortorella a much-needed extra option on faceoffs late in the year.