At the forefront of the Colorado Avalanche's core of young stars is center Matt Duchene, who was the first of those core players to be brought to the Avalanche when he was drafted 3rd overall in 2009. He is coming off a season where he had a career high 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in only 71 games. Over the last two seasons, Duchene has been nearly a point-per-game player, producing 113 points in 118 games. If he continues to improve, the offensive frontman for Colorado could have a 30-goal season next year.
Duchene spearheads a group of extremely talented forwards, some of them young like himself, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, and a couple of still very capable veterans in Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. With that group forming the top-6 for Colorado, it's about time they had a 30-goal scorer, something the Avalanche have not had since Milan Hejduk had 35 in 2006-2007. In fact, it would not be terribly surprising if Colorado has more than one 30-goal scorer next season. For Duchene, it's the next logical step in his career trajectory to eclipse 30 goals in a season. But one might wonder if that depends on which line Duchene centers as much as it depends on his continued progress as a player.
It is uncertain as to whether it will be Duchene or MacKinnon centering the top line. Conventional thinking holds that the most likely line combination for the top-6 forwards will be Landeskog-MacKinnon-Iginla as the top line and O'Reilly-Duchene-Tanguay as the second, but that is far from set in stone. For now, we are assuming that O'Reilly's contract situation will be sorted out and that he will remain with the Avalanche. And with those players, it would be more like having lines 1 and 1A than having a clear 1 and 2. However the lines turn out, Duchene will have plenty of opportunity reach the next level of stardom and become an elite scorer, especially since opposing teams will have their hands full trying to contain the rest of Colorado's top-6.
At some point, either Duchene or MacKinnon will lock down the role of top center. Perhaps Duchene will be the guy when the season starts, but a shift to MacKinnon will occur as the year moves along. Or perhaps they will go back and forth, considering the fact that head coach Patrick Roy has no fear of shaking up the lines. In any case, having two players who can both be legitimate top-line centers is a good problem to have. If Colorado lacks a singular face of the franchise, it is only because they have more than one superb candidate.
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Tags: Alex Tanguay, Colorado, Colorado Avalanche, Gabriel Landeskog, Hockey, Jarome Iginla, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Patrick Roy, Ryan O'Reilly