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The Duchene Factor in Tampa Bay

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
Matt Duchene wasn’t unlike many highly-regarded players joining the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He was great on offense and he didn’t think too much about being great on the other end of the ice.

Duchene did not wait long to change that.

“It was a building process,” Duchene said while visiting Tampa. “Coming into the league, I wasn’t great in my own end. I was more of a one-way player. I was really taught defense in Brampton. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing before. I just didn’t know how. I bought in and caught on quick. I was able to build on that every month.”

That’s all you need to know about Duchene, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound center from Haliburton, Ontario. Many experts agree he is the most complete forward available in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, which begins Friday in Montreal, and could be the biggest winner of this draft class down the road.

If Duchene ends up property of the Lightning, he would add another speedy, high hockey IQ player with leadership qualities to a lineup that was joined by a similar 18-year old standout named Steven Stamkos one year ago.

Duchene said it is an honor to be rated among the top three by most scouting services and he is soaking it all in. If he ends up in Tampa, Duchene is ready.

“This is an organization that’s on the rise,” Duchene said. “I didn’t know much about the rink and the [locker] room, but after we got a little tour I think it’s an unbelievable facility. The rink is your second home, so you want to feel comfortable and this is a place I can definitely see myself and the other guys feeling very comfortable.

“Guys like Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis would be great to play with and learn from. If I happen to land here, I would definitely lean on Steven Stamkos for help in the transition.”

E.J. McGuire, the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, said you can make definite comparisons between Duchene and Stamkos in size, speed and skills.

Duchene played up a year for his youth team, competing against Stamkos’ powerful Markham, Ontario teams from age 8-14. He also watched the evolution of Stamkos’ outstanding rookie season, which started slow and finished with 23 goals and 23 assists.

“People were questioning him at the beginning and at the end they loved him,” Duchene said. “You look at something like that and you just try to adjust and get in there as quick as possible to feel comfortable.

“There’s a transition phase with everybody, it doesn’t matter where you are. I think it’s important not to think about the pressure, just be happy with your situation and keep an even keel.”

Duchene’s stock began to rise with 31 goals and 79 points in the regular season, but perhaps opened the most eyes with an outstanding OHL playoff run (14 goals, 26 points in 21 games). He played with and learned from Cody Hodgson, who was picked 10th by Vancouver last year and helped lead Team Canada to the World Junior title in January.

He has been compared to a young Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman, who captained Colorado and Detroit, respectively, to a combined five Stanley Cups. Both will be in the Hall of Fame soon.

Enough said.

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