This is an article that I was going to write to start the season. I was curious as to who people thought would turn out to be the better player. I felt strongly that Matt Duchene would win this debate, but I wasn't entirely sure how things would shake out. Both players had decent rookie seasons and both seemed poised for breakout years in 2010-2011.
In the summer I had Duchene second on my list of top 25 rising stars with Tavares a close third. At the time I wrote this about Duchene:
This rookie of the year candidate manages to land in the runner-up spot despite being drafted behind John Tavares. It won’t be long until scouts re-evaluate that decision, and many already believe he has the higher upside.
One of the things that sets Duchene apart is his speed and skating ability. He is dangerous in any situation on the ice. He loves the game, and it shows with his fiery play.
Now, we are quickly approaching the halfway mark of the season and it's clear that Duchene's star is rising at light speed, while Tavares seems to be toiling away in a franchise in perpetual crisis.
Now, let's consider the context before we jump to any clear-cut conclusions. There is no doubt that things in New York are bad. Very bad. No one has any idea what the game plan is or if the owner even cares. There is some good young talent on the team, but they are still a long ways away from material gains in the standings.
As a result, Tavares has one of the worse plus/minus ratings in the league and only has 2 goals and 7 points in his last 20 games. Not exactly what the hardcore fans of the Islanders envisioned before the season. There were even some pundits who thought he might have the same ascension up the scoring list that Stamkos had last year.
That seemed a bit far-fetched, but he did have a stellar World Championship in Germany last year and finished his rookie season strong. He got off to a hot start this NHL season with six goals in his first six games, but he was a streaky player last year, too.
So what do we make of this first overall draft pick? Is he overrated? Too soon to be talking about a possible bust? Or is he a casualty of circumstance? Maybe he is going through the normal ups and downs that a prospect goes through.
I think he falls somewhere in the middle of all of this. I don't think he'll ever be in the top 10 in scoring or reach superstar status, but I also think he'll be a reliable offensive producer once his situation improves.
On the other side of the spectrum is the 10th leading scorer in the NHL Matt Duchene. I'm not sure what is taking so long for the rest of the league to take notice, but this kid is electrifying with the puck and he's breaking out in a huge way. Still only 19 years of age, Duchene is leading the Avalanche in scoring despite getting second line minutes and revolving linemates.
Scary stuff when you consider what his full potential could be. If he centered the top line with the likes of Chris Stewart and Milan Hejduk, it could quickly become one of the most dynamic lines in the league. For the time being he is stuck behind Paul Statsny, but that isn't a bad thing. There is more than enough time for Duchene to improve his game and earn his ice time.
Having said that, it's hard to argue with results. With seven points in the last three games, he is currently one of the hottest players in the league. This is all without his season-long linemate Milan Hejduk.
So while it is easy to say that the Avalanche are stacked with more talent than the Islanders, keep in mind that much of Duchene's production has come irregardless of who his linemates have been. Sometimes it's David Jones, other times it's Brandon Yip. Not exactly offensive dynamos.
Another aspect of the debate is the simple eyeball test. It doesn't take long before any fan can see which player is the more developed player at this point. Duchene is a more potent offensive threat, better in the face-off circle, faster, and more reliable in the defensive zone. He also has more points on the power play despite the fact that Taveres averages over a full minute longer with the man-advantage per game.
In the grand scheme of things, this debate is still far from over. Who will be better once they both reach their maximum potential? Who will prove more durable over the course of their careers? Which player will turn out to be the better playoff performer?
As you can see there are important variables and unanswered questions, but at this point of their careers I know which player I would rather start my franchise with.
What about you?