Matt Duchene sees a lot of himself in his new teammate Nathan MacKinnon.
That might begin to explain why the Colorado Avalanche’s star forward and their No.1 draft pick from Cole Harbour have become such great friends.
The sheer passion, the burning desire with which Mackinnon plays resonates most clearly with Duchene.
“That passion, especially with a lot of guys in the NHL, you don’t always see that, that desire to be your best,” said the Avalanche’s 2009 No. 3 overall pick.
“He’s super competitive, he’s driven like I am and he won’t accept failure.”
Duchene, who’s stepping into his fifth season with a new five-year, $30-million contract, feels an obligation to be a mentor to Mackinnon, as well as a buddy.
He made the trip to Halifax several days ago. The pair has shared plenty of conversation about that prospect of playing together and the giant leap MacKinnon’s about to make.
“I’ll be able to help him because I’ve been there, coming into the league at 18-years-old. I know how it feels and I’m a guy who cares a lot about my teammates, not just as hockey players but as people, and I know if you don’t feel good off the ice, you won’t feel good on it.”
Duchene has had his share of dark days, pointing to his third injury-plagued seasons. Coming off two stellar campaigns he managed just 28 points in 58 games, less than half his output in his sophomore year (67).
“It was very tough and there were lot of things behind the scenes that no one knows about, only the people closest to me know what I went through.
“I don’t think it will ever get to that point with Nathan but I want to be able to help him because I’ve been through everything a player can go through in four years, and I know how it feels.”
Duchene says he’s never been more excited for an NHL season as with this upcoming one. In Colorado, he believes MacKinnon has found a perfect match on a young, talented team.
“We’ve been talking about how strong our front end is, four lines that can do damage. He’s penciled in to be our third-line centre this year. That shows how strong we’re going to be.”
But that’s not to say the former Halifax Mooseheads star and Memorial Cup MVP doesn’t have plenty of challenges ahead. There are no guarantees.
“There’s no question he’ll be a superstar, the timeline has yet to be determined. But he’s still a little raw, like any 17-year-old would be. He likes to push the pace and likes to do everything really quickly, and he’ll learn patience, when to really stickhandle the puck, when to hold onto to it, when to get rid of it, when to be patient. Those are things you learn as you go and he’ll find the type of game that works for him.”
As gifted and as promising a future as MacKinnon has, Duchene knows how unrealistic most of the immediate expectations on the soon to be 18-year-old will be.
“He’ll make mistakes that an 18-year-old makes, and that’s the bottom line. But it’s just a matter of time before he applies his gifts to adapt and dominate in the NHL.”