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The opening three months of the NHL season are an audition for Olympic hopefuls, and you can argue that when it comes to Team Canada, perhaps no forward has seen his stock rise more than Matt Duchene at this point.
The leading scorer of the Colorado Avalanche has been nothing short of sensational a month into the season. His blistering speed and offensive instincts on nightly display while putting up 10 goals and 17 points overall in 14 games are why his NHL club is off to a sizzling 12-2-0 start.
|Matt Duchene has shown Colorado he was worth the third overall draft pick a few years ago.|
"In August, I wasn't looking around all starry-eyed at the camp; I was very focused on making good impressions and taking it all in so that I would be prepared for this season," Duchene told ESPN.com this week. "I knew if I put my best foot forward I would give myself the best chance possible. So hopefully we can keep on rolling here.
"It's a great challenge. It's on my mind for sure. My approach is, whatever I can do here with Colorado is going to help me with that; that's the best way to look at it, you can't separate the two."
Given Canada's depth at center, the third overall pick from the 2009 NHL draft is very much willing to play wing in Sochi despite being a natural center.
"Absolutely, absolutely," Duchene said without hesitation.
He pointed to last year during the lockout when he played for Frolunda in the Swedish league, he began the season at center but found that on the big ice, and having to play so low in the defensive zone, he wasn't as involved offensively.
"They switched me to the wing, and I started getting way more shots on net, and I was actually more effective on the wing with my type of game on the big ice," Duchene said. "That's definitely something I'm very comfortable with, and I know that if I do make the team, it's probably going to be a reality that I will likely be a winger. The nice part is, if I'm lucky enough to make it, it's such a great squad I'll have a great center no matter what line I'm on."
Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock mentioned "speed, speed, speed" during an interview with TSN's James Duthie last week when asked about the keys for his team in putting a roster together for Sochi.
That has Duchene written all over it, if he's capable of maintaining his current level of play.
Dallas has played Colorado twice this season, and Stars GM Jim Nill didn't hold back when asked about what he saw from Duchene.
"I think he's one of the top young players in the game right now," Nill told ESPN.com this week. "He's on top of his game; he's got great speed; he sees the ice well; he's a got a great ability of when guys go to check him in the corner he uses that to push off with and gets away from it; he's got a great ability that way. He's hard to contain; he's a handful."
People had questions about Duchene's game when he went from a career-high 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games in his second NHL season to just 28 points (14-14) in 58 games during an injury-filled 2011-12 season.
He came back last season after the lockout re-energized and refocused, putting up 43 points (17-26) in 47 games and looking the part again of top forward.
"After my third season, I really regrouped and took a really good look at myself and what I was doing, came back and had a good year last year," said Duchene, still only 22. "So far so good this season, I'm nowhere near satisfied right now with what's going on, but it's been a good start."
The way he's approached his offseason workouts has been key.
"That's one area I wanted to improve on after my third year," Duchene said. "I've always worked really hard off the ice, especially in the summer. In fact, I'm probably a bit more paranoid in the summer about things than in the winter because you're not playing hockey and you want to be prepared coming into camp. I had a few things I wanted to change [after his third season]. I think at one point I was listening to too many people; I had a lot of different sources telling me what they thought I needed to do. I was just trying to do too much."
He hired Sidney Crosby's longtime trainer, Andy O'Brien, that summer two years ago, and that was impactful. Duchene worked out with Crosby and O'Brien at times as well as other NHLers.
"Andy is amazing; he's got to be the best there is," Duchene said. "I don't want to slight other trainers, but what he's done for my career is invaluable."
|Matt Duchene credits new coach Patrick Roy as a big reason he's played so well this season.|
But new head coach Patrick Roy has had an immediate impact, and that's the first name that came up when Duchene was asked why his team has had a hot start to the season.
"You got to look at Patrick right away, I think he's the biggest reason," Duchene said. "The system he's implemented, his demeanor, his positivity, his ability to teach -- the way he teaches is amazing; all of us love him. It's been so much fun playing for him."
Nothing seems to faze the team. It's 2-1 since Semyon Varlamov's much-publicized arrest and release last week, the same week the Avs also traded Steve Downie for Max Talbot.
"We're just a very focused hockey club," Duchene said.
"We're extremely deep up front. We have different guys scoring, a different hero every night, and that's a lot of fun to watch different guys succeed and do well. Our back end has been outstanding, too. They're playing the system to a T and moving the puck well. In the past I wasn't getting too many pucks up the middle, and now they're finding me all the time. And our goaltending has actually been our best part of our team. It has been great."