Predators need Matt Duchene to keep up strong production in 2022-23

He finally broke out last season, but if Nashville wants to stay afloat, everything matters.

As we approach the start of the 2022-23 NHL season, On The Forecheck is taking an in-depth look at expectations for each Nashville Predators player for the new season. Today, we’re taking a look at Matt Duchene.

2021-22 Recap:
Regular Season: 78 GP, 43 G, 43 A, 86 P, CF% (All situations) 59.16%, 19:10 ATOI
Playoffs: 4 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 P, CF% (All situations) 48.22%, 20:43 ATOI

It took him long enough, but Matt Duchene finally did it. He broke through. And surprise, all of it happened when head coach John Hynes put him with more skilled linemates he was able to find much better chemistry with.

The Nashville Predators scratched and clawed their way into a second wild card position for the 2021-22 NHL postseason, leading to a sweep by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. None of this, including the minimal amount of fight put up by the boys in gold, could have been done without Duchene’s efforts.

In the very brief playoff stint, Duchene led the team in points and was tied with Yakov Trenin for the goal lead with three. Almost nothing could stop the Duchene Train from flying down the tracks in the regular season. He scored the second most points on the team with 86 in 78 games—a career-high—and led the team in goals with 43, despite Filip Forsberg breathing down his neck in fewer games played. Those 43 goals are the most ever scored in franchise history, and Duchene also became the first 40-goal scorer in Predators history, beating Forsberg in that race too.

The analytics were strong, too, posting the third-highest goals above replacement (GAR) of 17.4 and the second highest expected goals above replacement (xGAR) with 23.9. His regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart looks somewhat similar to the rest of his time in Nashville, which is why I had trouble believing that his poor performance would stick around for very long.

Now, all eyes are turning to the 2022-23 NHL season. Despite the Predators adding the likes of Ryan McDonagh and Nino Niederreiter over the offseason (both good moves), they’re still going to need almost elite production from their top scorers. From a statistical standpoint, I’m not as convinced that Duchene can continue at this pace. Of course, when a player plays with linemates like Forsberg and Mikael Granlund, almost anything is possible. However, there are legitimate concerns.

We can start with the fact that before last season as a 31-year-old, Duchene had never scored 40 goals. A supremely high shooting percentage and an exorbitant amount of shots contributed to his overall output. There’s a very high likelihood that one, if not both, of those numbers regress, and considering the Haliburton, Canada native is hitting the back end of his prime, there’s even more reason to believe that they will.

None of this denies that the Predators would not have reached the playoffs without his incredible production last season. We could also see him have another 30-goal, 65 to a 70-point season. However, I would be shocked to see him perform just as well or better than he did in 2021-22. This is not to say that he shouldn’t prove me wrong either. Go for it, Matt.

The Predators need consistently strong outings from Duchene. Currently, the onus is on management to build a team where they don’t falter because of natural regression in a relatively older player. If a regression happens and the team doesn’t do as well because of it, that’s not Duchene’s fault.

The upcoming NHL season will make the roster's status transparent. There are plenty of individual players to focus on as the season moves forward, and Duchene is one of them. I would not be surprised if a regression happens. However, I would be more than happy to be proven wrong, as I have been many times before. Such is life.