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Stars Thursday Orbit: What to expect from Matt Duchene in Dallas
The Stars went to the buyout bargain bin. What did they actually buy?
Do we have a good moniker for what’s happening with the Nashville Predators yet?
Based off the franchise’s history with general managers, David Poile held the role from 1998 until 2023, and how beloved Barry Trotz is in Nashville, it feels like he has a Steve Yzerman-type runway to craft a plan back to contention.
Yzerplan meet Trotz Trek? Eh, I’m sure someone can come up with something better.
Either way, one of the early and surprising moves in Trotz’ GM era was to buyout the three remaining seasons of Matt Duchene’s contract worth $8 million per season against the cap.
Duchene became one of the better scorers available on the market, and two years removed from a career-best 43-goal and 86-point season, the Dallas Stars signed him to a tidy $3 million one-year deal.
It’s a great pice of work by Dallas. If it blows up on the Stars, well it’s only one year, if it turns out great, they could re-sign him. It’s a potential win-win for both sides.
But what are the Stars getting with Duchene more specifically? That’s where we are going with this Stars Thursday Orbit (I know, the name lacks that oomph, but if you got something better, give it to me).
Duchene isn’t going to be a 40-goal scorer in Dallas, his 18.9 percent shooting percentage from the 2021-22 season was an outlier. But for his career he’s been a fine finisher shooting right around 13 percent.
If you really want to try and moneyball expectations (which can be dangerous in hockey) Duchene will likely play close 75 games this season — he’s only played a full 82 once in his career — and for his career he’s averaging 2.45 shots per game.
That’s an estimate 183.75 shots on net, and with 13 percent finishing, that would equate to 23.88 goals this season.
So yeah, last season Duchene scored 22 goals and shot 13.1 percent for Nashville in 71 games. That’s who he is, and if you are paying $8 million for that, it’s frustrating. But if you are only paying $3 million? It’s a bargain.
Enough of Sean attempting to do math… let’s look at some of the why and how of Duchene’s game.
For a Stars team that wants to play fast and create shots quickly after zone entries, Duchene is an ideal fit.
Even in his so-called down year in Nashville, he moved the puck well through the neutral zone. Duchene understands his routes, takes smart paths, and protects the puck well in the process.
Here is an example from last season in a game against the Seattle Kraken of Duchene’s ability to attack the neutral zone and create the entry through the middle of the ice.
(Duchene is No. 95 in all videos)
That center of ice entry is notable, even if the shot at the end is a lackluster. By entering through the center of the offensive zone, you create more options on both sides of the play.
Duchene also works well with others in transition and is able to quickly go from creating space for others to taking it himself after releasing the puck. Here’s an example from a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, where Duchene goes to the net after a give-and-go at the blue line.
Duchene seems to be forward thinking about linemates cutting and taking their routes deeper into the zone. Here’s another play against Seattle, where a hold up and allows the rest of the Predators forwards to join the rush and they nearly connect on a diagonal pass.
We’ve seen a lot of puck protection elements in Duchene’s game that translate to the offensive zone.
From the face-off circle and below, Duchene is effective at using his body and length to protect the puck. He does a nice job to create an angle adjustment to get shots through, and he really enjoys the little pop-out shot from just below the goal line extended.
If you don’t believe me, look at the shot chart from HockeyViz.
Here’s some video to back it up, starting with this play against the Los Angeles Kings.
Here’s another play, this one against the Anaheim Ducks, where Duchene does a nice job coming out of the difficult areas to at least get a shot off.
Overall Duchene fits well with the scheme that the Stars and Pete DeBoer have designed. He’s a puck protector and transition driver, but he’s also not a burner. The Stars have their burners (see: Hintz, Roope) but where they really kill teams in transition play is with their slow-moving fleet of smart decision makers (see: Pavelski, Joe and Robertson, Jason), who now when and where to create for their teammates.
Duchene, by virtue of the buyout, will also be playing at his true market value. With 20ish goals this season, he’ll likely be the Stars fifth or sixth-leading goal scorer, and for $3 million that’s a tidy piece of business.
(Editor’s note: this type of story will typically be for paid subscribers only. But this week and next with the film/breakdowns I’m keeping them open for those on the fence to give the coverage a try. Thanks again for your support.)