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Duchene is Avs' next great hope

by Craig Stancher
He has been put through the ringer at the NHL Combine, was selected near the top of the 2009 Entry Draft and then, shortly after, headed to Denver, to take part in the Avalanche's development camp.

Finally, Matt Duchene put his John Hancock on an entry-level contract last month, marking the next step in his journey to the National Hockey League.

While the past few weeks may have been a bit of a blur for the 18-year-old forward, Duchene has been taking everything in stride.

Whether it was working out in front of hundreds of people at the Combine -- an experience he described as "a little nerve-wracking at first" -- or stepping onto the ice for the first time after being selected by Colorado, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound center has learned to tackle things one day at a time and soak up the experience.

"It's been awesome. It's been a pretty big whirlwind," Duchene said. "First we had the draft, and I took a few days to enjoy that, but then you're right back at work."

Most recently, Duchene, who plays for the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League, took part in the Avalanche's development camp in early July, joining 14 other prospects.

The camp's goal is to teach the young players what it takes to be a professional hockey player, including the importance of proper nutrition, training tips and proper exercise techniques and routines. While the camp fosters an environment of learning and personal growth, it also has an on-ice portion that allows the Avalanche brass to get a glimpse of the players' skill sets.

Duchene was well aware of this fact, as were the others in attendance.

"All the guys want to show the coaches and staff that they have the skill to play at the NHL level, whether it's this year, next year or the year after that," Duchene said. "It's about showing what you can do so they have an accurate outlook on your ability."

Although the camp didn't provide the opportunity to scrimmage, Duchene felt he still had the chance to display some of his intangible traits during the on-ice sessions.

"I think I tried to show my work ethic. I take a lot of pride in working as hard as I can, no matter what I'm doing," Duchene said.

Duchene knows he'll have to showcase more than just his offensive skills when rookie and training camp roll around next month. That shouldn't be an issue, because while scouts rave about his speed and skill, they also considered him perhaps the best two-way player available at the 2009 Entry Draft.

"Playing a two-way game is something I've tried to work on my whole career," Duchene said. "We didn't scrimmage at development camp, but I'd like to show off my two-way play at rookie camp."

While Duchene doesn't know at the moment where he'll be playing next year, there are a handful of possibilities. He could spend the entire season with Brampton, gain a short audition with the Avalanche or spend the whole campaign in Denver.

And though he's repeatedly stated his desire to make the NHL roster for the 2009-10 season, the talented young forward is keeping an open mind and is ready for any possibility.

"This whole experience so far has been a lot of fun," said Duchene. "My goal is to make the team, but I have a pretty good situation to go back to in Brampton if that doesn't happen."

No matter where he ends up following camp, there's one thing Avalanche fans can take to the bank. With his skill set, hard-working mentality and a maturity level beyond his years, Duchene will be gracing Pepsi Center ice on a regular basis sooner rather than later.

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