The Colorado Avalanche have a lot of work to do in overcoming their naysayers and ridding themselves of the image that was created for them last season.
One player that will have to play an integral role in this turnaround is the very young Matt Duchene.
Last season, Matt Duchene became the youngest player in Avalanche history to lead his team in scoring. Not only did Duchene lead his team in points, but he was tied for the team lead in both goals and assists (27 goals and 40 assists).
Duchene struggled during the preseason, though he did manage to tally two goals for the Avalanche in their preseason finale against the L.A. Kings in Las Vegas.
Duchene spent the vast majority of the preseason and all of opening night on a line with Milan Hejduk and Peter Mueller.
On paper, this line looks very good, but it has struggled to produce through camp and the preseason games.
Duchene is in his final year of his entry-level contract and is definitely going to need to produce in order to get a long-term contract extension.
So, what can we expect from the young superstar on the Avalanche?
I think we're going to see a lot more ice time for Duchene in very important situations. Duchene showed great improvement in his defensive game throughout camp and preseason, and he will start to log more and more ice time and responsibility.
Also count on seeing Duchene taking important faceoffs for his team. I was fortunate enough to attend the opening game for the Colorado Avalanche against Detroit, and Duchene was very impressive on the draws.
If Peter Mueller is able to find his legs and shows some good chemistry with Duchene and Hejduk, I wouldn't expect too many changes on this line.
But if Mueller struggles, I think there is a good possibility that Gabriel Landeskog could find himself playing alongside Duchene. His power-forward game would be a beneficial contrast to the finesse that both Duchene and Hejduk show.
I would also expect Duchene to continue to improve his output. With the extra ice time, Duchene will find more and more opportunities to provide offense for his team.
Duchene had 67 points last season, I think it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to expect more than 70 points from Duchene this year.
I don't think this will be the year that he cracks 30 goals, as he will need to shoot a lot more than he has been in order to do that, but his vision on the ice continues to improve. I wouldn't be surprised if Duchene hits 50 assists this year, especially if he does start shooting more.
If he starts producing and leading, we may also find Duchene wearing that third A that the Avalanche will be rotating amongst its players. This is a big year for Duchene to prove that he could be a captain for this Avalanche team in the future.
End of the year, provided he stays healthy, I'll predict 23 goals and 53 assists for Matt Duchene, which will once again lead his team in scoring. This may end up earning Dutchy a C as well as a fat new long-term contract.