Avalanche’s Duchene in hunt for NHL rookie of the year
The Denver Post
ST. LOUIS – When rumors circulated at the NHL draft in Montreal last summer that the New York Islanders might take Matt Duchene with the first overall pick, some of their hardened fans threatened to burn their season tickets. Islanders fans had their hearts set on John Tavares, after all.
Nine months later, the question is, “Would the Islanders do it differently if they could?” In the horse race for the NHL’s Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, the Isles’ Tavares is stumbling around in the middle of the pack, while Duchene seems to be picking up another furlong every few days.
In 68 games, Tavares has 18 goals, 18 assists, a minus-18 and 18 penalty minutes. The scoring numbers are respectable, but they don’t stack up to those of Duchene, the No. 3 pick. The Avs’ 19-year-old center has 23 goals, 24 assists and a plus-2. And, just as important, his team has been a surprising success story, while the Islanders appear headed for another nonplayoff finish.
On an off-day here Monday, Duchene said the playoffs remain foremost in his mind but he would be lying if he said the Calder didn’t sneak in as well.
“It’s always there. You have goals you want to achieve, and you only get one shot at it,” Duchene said. “It wasn’t there as much earlier in the year, because your first goal is just to make the team. … Now, things are falling into place a little bit more.”
Duchene’s finances also would improve if he wins the Calder. Rookies no longer are allowed to negotiate bonuses for NHL awards, but the Calder winner gets a mandated $212,500. The runner-up receives $150,000, and third place gets $100,000.
The Islanders say Tavares still is their guy and retain faith he will blossom into one of the NHL’s most exciting players. But Duchene is outpacing all rookies in scoring, which doesn’t come as a surprise to everyone. Du-chene’s junior coach, Brampton’s Stan Butler, said he was the best all-around player in the draft and added, “Matt will lift the Stanley Cup some day.”