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30 in 15: Downie poised to make impact for Avalanche

by Brian Hunter continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Entering his fifth NHL season, center Matt Duchene sees a lot to be excited about the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche.

On a team with plenty of young offensive talent, however, one player in particular flies under the radar. He's skated 22 games in an Avalanche jersey since being acquired at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline, but if he can stay healthy, Steve Downie offers an exciting combination of skill and snarl.

Over the summer, new coach Patrick Roy projected Downie to play right wing on the third line with 2013 No. 1 draft pick Nathan MacKinnon as his center. At practice Tuesday, he was skating on the top line with Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. Regardless of Downie's linemates, he could be poised for a career season.

"[Downie], losing him last year was a huge blow. People don't really realize what a huge blow that was," Duchene told earlier this month at the Player Media Tour in New York. "It's almost like we traded for a player now, getting him back."

In his 2012-13 debut with the Avalanche, Downie assisted on a goal and picked up six penalty minutes. Three nights later he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a hit in the corner against Los Angeles Kings defenseman Davis Drewiske, and just like that his season was over.

The Avalanche had been hoping Downie would continue to produce the way he did after they acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous season, when he had 13 points in 20 games. Although his early days in the League with the Philadelphia Flyers earned him a reputation for undisciplined play, Downie established himself as an above-average power forward upon his arrival in Tampa Bay.

Showing flashes of the potential he displayed as a junior player in the Ontario Hockey League, Downie put together his best season in 2009-10 with 22 goals, 46 points and 208 penalty minutes. In the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he had 14 points in 17 games as the Lightning advanced to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

"He's going to be great with Nate," Duchene said. "[Downie] sees the ice really well. For a guy who's more of a gritty player, he can definitely play even a top-line role if we ever have an injury. He's really smart, can score … he was a star in junior, and when you're a player like that, a top-end player, [the ability] doesn't really go away. I think his stats with us are going to be real good going forward."

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