Most of the talk about this year's top junior prospects has usually centred around John Tavares and Victor Hedman, the players long-ranked first and second for next month's NHL Entry Draft in Montreal. But the player that many view as the most complete forward available has become a hot property in his own right.
Matt Duchene had such an impressive season, International Scouting Services moved him from third position in the rankings to second, ahead of Hedman.
Duchene was a standout this season with the Brampton Battalion, and turned the heads of numerous scouts with his dynamic play and superior skating ability. He scored 31 goals and 79 points in 57 regular season games, and added another 26 points in 21 post-season games during Brampton's run to the OHL Final.
Those kind of numbers have landed Duchene in Toronto this week for the NHL Combine, a chance to workout and be interviewed by NHL clubs. And when Duchene gets his chance to meet and greet with NHL management, they will likely be impressed by more than his on-ice statistics. Duchene was also named as one of the OHL's scholastic players of the year.
"I love the game of hockey, it's been my life. I've done everything around that," Duchene told TSN. "I haven't put anything first in front of it from a young age. I think if they know that and that I'll do anything for them and the team, I'll leave a good impression."
But despite his strong advance billing, Duchene still has some nerves about the week ahead. It's his last chance to make an impression before the June 26 draft.
"When you think about the Combine, you think about going in and talking to people from the NHL who are basically judging every word you say. It can be intimidating," said the 18-year old native of Haliburton, Ontario. "I just want teams that are considering to draft me to know what kind of person I am, and just give them a better idea of what I can bring to the table."
And the list of what Duchene could contribute in the NHL is impressive. Duchene was voted best playmaker and stickhandler in the Eastern Conference by OHL coaches, but it's his skating that sets him apart from so many others.
"If I'm having a good game it's because I'm moving my feet and not standing around too much. I'm not the type of player who can get away with floating," explained Duchene.
"He's an explosive skater, and he can just blow by people, which not a lot of people can," said Stan Butler, Director of Hockey Operations and head coach of the Battalion. "I think his lower body strength...he has a similar build from the waist down to someone like Sidney Crosby."
During the season, Duchene tried not to get too far ahead of himself but now it is difficult for him to think of anything other than what his future might hold and he will stop at nothing to get there.
Written with files from TSN reporter Sara Orlesky.
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