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For hockey nerd Duchene, playoff success is highlight of career

Blue Jackets forward enjoying chance to make a run in Columbus

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

When the Columbus Blue Jackets traded for Matt Duchene at the deadline, the locker room didn't know much about Duchene and he didn't know much about the team. 

But as Duchene has gone through the end of the season and his first playoff series with the Jackets, one thing has become clear.  

This is a man who loves his hockey. 

Video: Duchene talks about the atmosphere in Columbus

If he's not playing hockey, he's talking hockey. If he's not talking hockey, he's thinking about hockey. And if he's not thinking about hockey, well, he's probably with his young son, Beau. But once Beau takes a nap, it's back to hockey. 

"I love it," Duchene said. "I'm able to turn it off when I go home, but during the season it's all I think about. During the summer, I take a step back -- I'm obviously working out and working on things and skating and stuff -- but it's very different during the season for me. 

"It's what I love to do. It's what I've always loved to do. I'm watching all the games right now and we're just really enjoying this. This is what I've always wanted to do my whole life, so it's pretty special." 

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Indeed, for Duchene, this is now new territory. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft suffered through a number of rebuilding cycles in Colorado before being traded early last season to Ottawa, where the Sens followed up a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017 with back-to-back disappointing seasons. 

That's why Duchene ended up in Columbus, and when he arrived, he had played in just two Stanley Cup Playoff series. In 2010, as a rookie, he was on a Colorado team that lost in the first round, while a division-winning Avalanche squad in 2014 also was dispatched in the opening round. Duchene could only play two of the seven games that season vs. Minnesota because of a knee injury suffered late in the season. 

For such an accomplished player, it has been a frustrating cycle, with Duchene more likely to spend his late April preparing to join Team Canada at the World Championships rather than gearing up for further playoff action. 

That alone has made this postseason a memorable experience for the 28-year-old. Add in the experience of going through it in a city that also is on to the second round for the first time and Duchene reports to work each day feeling like a kid in a candy store. 

"It's pretty special to be here for this," he said. "If you told me last year the day I got traded to Ottawa that I'd be here right now -- I guess anything can happen, but you never know what to expect in this league. I'm just very pleased to be here and excited for this group." 

Perhaps Duchene's interest in the sport of hockey came from being from a family with a strong lineage in the sport. The Haliburton, Ontario, native is the nephew of two former college hockey players, one of whom is Newell Brown, a longtime coach who was an assistant coach on the first Blue Jackets team and spent four seasons with the squad. 

Duchene's father also dabbled in hockey as a goaltender, one reason Duchene is not afraid to pick the mind of Blue Jackets goaltending coach Manny Legace before facing opposing netminders. 

"I want to know tendencies, things like that. It's good to have a book on guys," Duchene said. "Manny is great. It's fun to sit down and talk about it. My dad was a goalie, so we always used to talk about differnet things about goaltenders. It always helps to know what they're thinking and how they're moving as a shooter." 

That kind of attention to detail has caught the attention of people like head coach John Tortorella, who is happy to see Duchene pitching in for the Jackets. 

"I enjoy being around the guy," Tortorella said. "I think he likes talking hockey. I watch with the other coaches. I watch him before games go to see Manny and talk about the goaltender. I think he's a student of the game. He hasn't missed a beat with me since he's been here." 

After posting 27 goals and 31 assists for 58 points in 50 games with the Sens this year, he had a 4-8-12 line in 23 games with the Blue Jackets in the regular season. 

In the first round against Tampa Bay, Duchene was one of the best players on the ice, totaling three goals and four assists for a team-high seven points. In other words, maybe all that hockey talk is paying off. 

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm3: Duchene roofs backhander on rebound

"I just like talking about it and exchanging ideas," Duchene said. "You talk with certain guys, you can pick up certain things. With the coaching staff, there's times where I might have an idea or I have a question or I feel like I didn't do something quite right, I'll go seek out a clip and talk with the coaches if I felt like I was out of position, or I'll grab the iPad on the bench. 

"I think it's important to always work on your game, whether it's on the ice or looking, watching, whatever. The more you have it in your brain, the better you're going to be at it. I love what I do, and it's as simple as that." 

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