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Duchene making the most of NHL opportunity

by Dan Rosen
It wasn't as if some light bulb in Matt Duchene's head turned on, nor did he have one of those, "Ah, now I get it" moments.

Colorado's stud rookie concedes that the NHL game has started to slow down for him in the last month, but really, Duchene truly believes that the only reason he's contributing offensively now is because he's finally making the most of his chances.

Duchene, the third pick in June's Entry Draft, heads into Monday's game at Minnesota having produced 15 points in his last 16 games, including 7 goals and 8 assists, after scoring only twice and dishing out just five assists in his first 21 games.

"There are times that people go through where you're in a bit of a slump and things just aren't going in and things just aren't going right," Duchene told "It comes in time and you have to keep at it and keep working and eventually the breaks will come."

Duchene's slump, if you can call it that for an 18-year-old in the NHL, came over an 11-game stretch from Oct. 24-Nov. 17, when he had only one point, a shorthanded goal against San Jose the day before Halloween.

Did he sulk? Did he pout? Did he press?

Not this confident kid.

"I went through a lot of them (tough stretches) in junior and I'm pretty good at handling them now," he said. "I get frustrated, but I don't bury myself like I used to. I keep going and try to have as much fun as I can and not think about it too much. I try to let it flow."

Duchene broke out of it with 2 assists in a 6-4 loss to Edmonton on Nov. 18. He had back-to-back 2-goal games at Tampa Bay and Florida on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, when he also added an assist and played a season-high 33 shifts totaling 24:30 of ice time.

He was the NHL's Third Star of the Week ending Dec. 6.

Through 37 games, Duchene is tied for fourth on the Avs with 22 points. He said he's already figured out what kind of player he will be in the NHL and, "I'm striving toward that right now."

"Having played on the top two lines most of this year and feeling comfortable with that, that's the spot where I'm going to fit in and I need to fit in," he continued. "I went through a tough stretch, but around that stretch I have done pretty well."

Other than just burying some of his chances, Duchene mentioned another difference in his game, one that comes along with growth and experience.

Normally one to drive the right side and try to go wide around the defenseman, Duchene said he's starting to use the entire surface now and has found pulling up to hit the late man in on the rush with a pass in stride can create great scoring chances, too.

He's trying to become less predictable, a point Avalanche coach Joe Sacco has stressed with the rookie.

"In this game today, if you look at the better players they all have an area of strength, a niche, but they're all not predictable," Sacco told "The thing we're trying to talk with Matty about is using his speed effectively because he's a good skater and can challenge the D wide, but if the defenseman is seeing that all the time than he maybe needs to change. Maybe he needs to curl up and find the late attack coming in. Really, it's just about not being predictable."

It's also about being consistent.

Sacco knows how difficult it can be for a young kid in today's NHL to find a consistent groove. Duchene may have found it over the last 16 games, but odds are he'll lose it again somewhere along the line this season because that's just normal, just betting the odds.

Considering, though, that Sacco is impressed with Duchene's strong work habits, he thinks his inconsistent stretches should be limited.

"He's had some ups and downs, but he's staying committed and he's working hard," Sacco said. "He had a stretch where he put in some points mainly because of his hard work. You have to work before you bring that skill out and for Matty that's the key, to make sure that his foundation is his work ethic and then his abilities will come out."

To Duchene's credit, that's all he seems to be focused on. Well, that and helping the Avs win, but the two go hand-in-hand, obviously.

He's living, as he said, "in an adult world" now and is finding it increasingly difficult to just be a kid anymore. But he's also living in veteran defenseman Adam Foote's house and plans on staying there for the foreseeable future as long as Foote will have him.

Foote's place is not only a safe haven away from the rink and the hype surrounding the kid in Denver, but it's also a place where Duchene can still focus solely on the game.

"The thing with living with Foote, and I was talking with Sidney Crosby about it the other day because he is living with (Mario) Lemieux, it allows you to just focus on hockey and you don't have to worry about doing things like cleaning," Duchene said. "You can keep your head where it needs to be. I think it's more important to establish myself on the ice before I worry about where I am off the ice."

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