Nashville Predators: Duchene’s resurgence powering Predators up standings

Matt Duchene #95 of the Nashville Predators. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Matt Duchene #95 of the Nashville Predators. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

Matt Duchene is looking more like his old self in the first month of the 2021-22 season, and it has led his Nashville Predators to a surprising start.

Last year was a down year for Duchene, and things have felt underwhelming overall since he joined the Predators. Last season yielded only 13 points for Duchene in 34 games, as Nashville struggled through the regular season before using a strong end to the year to qualify for the postseason. Still, the Preds were bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, confirming the feeling that they couldn’t compete in the temporarily realigned Central Division.

That certainly was not the first time that things failed to come together for Duchene and the Predators. In his first two seasons in Tennessee, Duchene played 100 games, recording 55 points and a minus-16 rating. Prior to that, he split the 2018-19 season between the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he tallied 70 points in 73 games, as well as 10 points in as many playoff contests. Clearly, his production has dropped off since joining the Predators, which has been made worse by his team-leading $8 million cap hit.

Duchene is not the only player in Nashville that has underachieved, so it felt to me that the Predators would be due for a significant regression this year. In fact, I projected that the only division rival that would finish lower than the Preds in the standings would be the Arizona Coyotes.

Instead, the Predators sit in fourth place with an 8-5-1 record, and it’s largely because of number 95. Duchene has already surpassed his goal (6) and point (13) totals from a year ago, as he has eight goals and 14 points on the campaign. He also owns a plus-1 rating after stumbling through last season with a minus-12 rating. The last time Duchene was a plus player was 2017-18 with the Colorado Avalanche (plus-1).

He has also helped the Nashville power play improve from 23rd in the league last year (17.6%) to fifth so far this season (26.3%). He has two goals and four points with the man advantage, both of which are greater totals than he posted all of last year.

In addition, Duchene has contributed three game-winning goals in the first 14 games of the 2021-22 season. The last time that he recorded that many GWGs was in 2016-17 with the Avs. To make this season’s timely goal scoring even more astounding, Duchene had scored a total of only two game-winners over the last four campaigns.

Include the fact that he is boasting his highest shooting percentage (18.6%) since 2018-19 and that he is winning over two percent more faceoffs than he was a year ago, and it’s clear to see that Duchene’s positive contributions are a major reason that Nashville has some momentum going in its favor so far this year.

The Predators have continually been let down lately by underperforming stars, but if Matt Duchene can continue to play as well as he is right now, Nashville might just turn out to be a team that other clubs don’t want to play.