Growing up in Haliburton, Ontario, kids have to find different ways to entertain themselves than the traditional movie watching and mall trips. Matt Duchene spent his spare time firing pucks, playing road hockey and working out.
It paid off for him at a young age, being drafted fifth overall in 2007 to the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion. Upon entering the OHL though he quickly found out that he had to change his game.
“I was kind of a one-way offensive guy and [Battalion head coach Stan Butler] really helped me develop my game into a two-way player,” said Duchene. “That’s kind of the reputation I’ve gotten for the draft. That can totally be attributed to him.”
Last year, Duchene sat back and watched his good friend and teammate Cody Hodgson go through the draft process, which was very valuable to him this year when it was his turn.
“He didn’t let the pressure affect him at all last year. This year there was a time at the beginning of the year when I was letting the pressure really get to me so I went and talked to him,” said Duchene. “He really helped me clear my head saying take one game at a time and not to think about it at all, it’s just like any other year and to just do what I do and I’ll end up being successful.”
To say Duchene was successful may be an understatement.
After notching 79 points in 57 games this year for the Battalion, Duchene enters the NHL draft rated third by Central Scouting and has received rave reviews from all scouts on both his two-way play and his overall character. Red Line Report came out with a mock draft and selected Duchene first overall which drew a stir from many abroad but RLR’s Kyle Woodlief explained his selection while writing for USA Today.
“We see Duchene as a Steve Yzerman type of performer, with the ability to score, distribute, play sound defensively and come up big when needed. In many other years, that would be more than enough to be considered the draft’s premier prospect. Even with talent such as [John] Tavares and [Victor] Hedman available this year, it may be time to step back, take a long look and a deep breath – and acknowledge that Duchene has at least entered the conversation when the topic is this year’s best available player.”
“It wasn’t something I had ever expected, it was an honour to be ranked there and there have been a lot of elite players to go first overall in the past,” said Duchene “To be mentioned as potential for that pick is quite surreal so whether it happens or not I’ll still be happy to just be drafted. Even to be regarded as maybe that guy is an honour in itself.”
In addition to Yzerman, Duchene has also been compared to Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche; the team with the third pick on Friday and where most mock drafts have Duchene slotted. Sakic was a player that he grew up idolizing and modeling himself after; everything from his shot to his character and heart. Duchene called the Avs’ captain the “classiest player to ever play the game.”
Character and heart were both called upon for Duchene when he was one of the last players cut from Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championships – a tough choice considering his national success in the past. He won three gold medals in an eight month span, alongside Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis, at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, Under-18 World Championships and the Under-17 Challenge.
“[The disappointment] was huge. I don’t think I would be where I am today without it though. I think I learned more from getting cut from that team than if I had played. I was kind of up and down, when I had a good game, I’d be at my highest high and when I’d have a bad game, I would be at the lowest low. I didn’t have any confidence,” said Duchene. “In terms of hitting that absolute low I had to come out of it some way and that was the time for me to kind of raise my confidence level and realize just because I had one bad experience, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad player.”
After battling through that ultimate low, Duchene bounced back and helped the Battalion to the OHL final. During the biggest summer of his life – thus far – he attended the NHL combine where players get put through physical tests and rigorous interviews with teams’ representatives.
In those interviews Duchene tried to educate the teams on what kind of person he was because he believes that character is just as important as his on-ice skills. He even made trips to New York, Tampa Bay and Colorado to check out the cities of where he will likely become an NHL star.
“I think it went pretty well and from what I heard I did pretty well, but no one ever really knows for sure,” said Duchene. “All three places I would be fortunate to end.”
As for keeping himself busy since the combine and keeping his mind off this Friday.
“I wish it would just get here. It’s getting annoying actually.”