Matt Duchene's affinity for the city of Nashville wasn't necessarily a secret prior to July 1, but over the past 10 days, just about everyone is now well aware the centerman's heart led him to Tennessee.
His love for the town was one of the reasons the Preds made him their top priority as the NHL's free agency signing period opened last week, but Duchene is a pretty darn good hockey player too.
Looking to improve their offensive capabilities this offseason, the gifted forward is exactly the kind of athlete the Preds were targeting. Now that things are official, Duchene not only began the search for a permanent living arrangement in Music City, he also started to imagine his role on a club with Stanley Cup aspirations.
"There's definitely no shortage of talent throughout the entire lineup," Duchene said Tuesday in Nashville. "There's definitely no bad options of guys to play with here. The talent is amazing. You come into Bridgestone Arena as a visitor, and you're playing against those guys, you know what they bring, you know what they can do… I'm excited to be on the home team side of things at Bridgestone now."
The Predators are ecstatic to have him, with team management describing Duchene as an "elite playmaker" who will give the club a one-two center punch along with Ryan Johansen. Essentially, the Preds now have two players who are capable of being top centermen in the NHL, and once opponents are done dealing with either No. 92 or 95, the next option won't be far behind.
Duchene believes he and Johansen will make a great pair at the position, with the potential to feed off one another and push each other to be better night after night.
Video: Preds center Matt Duchene is introduced in Nashville
"The relationship between your top two centers is really important," Duchene said. "You've got to be supportive of each other. There's always that little bit of internal competition, which is a really healthy and good thing, but at the same time, you look at any good team in the League, they have two really good centermen… I'm excited to really work with [Johansen]. He's a tremendous player, amazing passer, one of the best passers in the League, and he's been one of the best players and one of the big cogs in the wheel here for a long time. I'm excited to work with guys like him."
While he knows he likely won't be on the ice with Johansen at the same time - except perhaps for a power play or extra-attacker opportunity - Duchene is confident he'll be able to adapt along with his teammates, no matter who is on his wing.
Over the course of 10 NHL seasons with Colorado, Ottawa and Columbus, Duchene has been in a multitude of different situations with his linemates, experience he plans on utilizing with his new wingers in Gold.
"As a centerman, your responsibility is to get your wingers the puck and make guys around you better," Duchene said. "My mentality is no matter who I'm playing with - if I'm playing with a really good goal-scorer, I'm looking to get them the pucks and they'll finish. If I'm playing with a really good playmaker, my job is to get open and make sure that I'm producing myself and putting the puck in the net myself… It's a lot of responsibility, and it's something I take a lot of pride in."
Duchene, who is coming off a career year with 31 goals and 70 points to his name, has taken that responsibly and learned how to channel it properly as he's matured season by season. Now that he's a veteran, the 28-year-old says he's found a balance as he enters the prime of his career with the Preds.
Video: Duchene talks Nashville, past coaches, "offside" goal
"I put a ton of pressure on myself, sometimes too much, but it's something I've learned to deal with over the years," Duchene said. "I've definitely taken a step back on that and getting more relaxed. As a young player, that was probably my biggest fault was how much pressure I put on myself. It's still the case for me, but at the same time, it's walking that line of letting yourself off and regrouping and getting ready for the next task at hand."
Duchene headed back home to Ontario on Wednesday as his three-day visit to Nashville concluded, and while there will be plenty of packing to do from residences in both Ottawa and Denver over the coming weeks, it'll be hockey season soon enough.
And make no mistake - saying he's excited to live in Nashville would be an understatement, but Duchene knows what he's here to do.
"The organization has done a lot to bring me in, and I want to give back to that," Duchene said. "I want to give back to the fans and give back to the city, and I can't express how flattered we've been, the welcome we've had in this city. We want to give that back now with my best and the team's best."