Matt Duchene

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A fresh start with Avalanche is yielding promising results for Nail Yakupov

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It had been a difficult few years for Nail Yakupov since he broke into the NHL.

Now 24 years old, he’s with his third team. He’s been injured. He’s been a healthy scratch. He so far hasn’t produced offensively like you’d expect from a No. 1 overall pick. His time in Edmonton was disappointing. He spent four seasons there before being moved on to St. Louis, where the struggle continued.

We’ll preface this with the usual “It’s still early” line, but Yakupov is enjoying an impressive start to this young season with his newest team, the Colorado Avalanche.

On Wednesday, he scored a beautiful goal to put Colorado ahead in the second period and then set up Matt Duchene later on to increase the Avalanche lead in a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins, giving Yakupov three goals and five points in four games and helping his team to a 3-1 record.

It didn’t work out for Yakupov in Edmonton. Or in St. Louis, where he played in only 40 games, scored three times and recorded nine points. He wasn’t extended a qualifying offer this summer and became an unrestricted free agent. The Avalanche stepped in and took a chance on the once highly touted forward, signing him to a one-year deal worth just $875,000.

For the Avalanche, it’s looking like a savvy bet early on.

He’s been able to have success while playing on a line with the highly skilled Duchene and college free agent signing Alex Kerfoot.

That’s quite a trio.

Yakupov is looking to get his career back on track. For quite some time, there has been doubt about Duchene’s time in Colorado given the rampant trade speculation, and Kerfoot is a New Jersey draft pick who chose free agency after his college career ended.

“They’re finding a way every night,” head coach Jared Bednar told reporters following the game. “They’re competitive guys, they’ve got this chemistry from Day One and it’s continued here again (Wednesday).”

Duchene now has five points in four games, while Kerfoot scored his first NHL goal on Wednesday. All three players lead the Avalanche in Corsi For percentage, with Yakupov at the top of the list five-on-five at 61.3 per cent, according to Corsica.  

It’s common to hear about the ‘fresh start’ factor and its impact on certain players. So far for Yakupov and the Avalanche, this one has yielded promising results.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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PHT Morning Skate: 5 toughest opponents Mark Scheifele has ever faced

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–Check out the highlights from Wednesday’s game between the Capitals and Penguins. Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs last season, and they did it again last night. (Top)

–Surprisingly enough, Matt Duchene is still a member of the Colorado Avalanche. But how long before his teammates become as fed up of the current situation in Denver as he is? GM Joe Sakic has to pull the trigger on a move before this thing spirals even further out of control. (scottywazz.com)

–The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a strong 3-0-0 start, but their power play has been ineffective since the preseason. On top of not having the best talent at their disposal, they also don’t get to dangerous areas of the ice enough. (knightsonice.com)

–Goal scoring has been at a premium since the last lockout. On average, teams have been combining for 5.34 to 5.45 goals-per-game. It might be a small sample size, but teams are scoring 6.22 goals-per-game. Also, 15 teams are averaging three goals per game. (Fanragsports.com)

–Despite missing a number of key players like Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues have managed to start the year 4-0-0. “I would say our veterans have really stepped up their game, and not allowed any type of adversity to creep in and give us any type of excuses,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “Our group is a competitive group, and we believe despite having some guys out of the lineup, we’re still capable of winning hockey games.” (Sporting News)

–Carolina isn’t a traditional hockey market and they haven’t made the playoffs in a while, so it’s not surprising that their attendance is low, but the fact that they had just 7,892 fans for their home opener is mind-boggling. “I talk to our sales staff all the time (that) winning or losing doesn’t stop us from doing our job,” president Don Waddell said. “If we win, it’s going to make our job a little easier to sell more tickets. But we don’t use that as an excuse.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Lightning forward J.T. Brown was the first player to protest during the anthem this season. Commissioner Gary Bettman might not want to see protests from his players because the league isn’t political in his mind, but that’s not exactly true. (fiveforhowling.com)

–The Vancouver Canucks should be in rebuild mode, but the fact that they have so many veteran players is a problem for their NHL and AHL team. Top prospect Brock Boeser hasn’t been able to get into an NHL game yet, while Anton Rodin and Patrick Wiercioch have been scratched in AHL games. (vancourier.com)

–Jets forward Mark Scheifele describes himself as a “hockey nerd”. He watches hockey all the time, he thinks about hockey all the time, and now he’s even writing about hockey for The Players’ Tribune. In this story, Scheifele identifies the five most difficult players he’s ever played against. One of the players in the list is Montreal’s Carey Price. Scheifele had no problem admitting that Price has made him look silly before. (Players’ Tribune)

–A few years ago, the NHL decided to force every player that had under 26 games of experience to wear a visor when they got to the league. Today, 94 percent of NHLers have a visor in, which means that only 34 players don’t have one. That’s remarkably low. (Associated Press)

–Hockey has clearly become a young man’s game. A good number of superstars in the league are 23 years old or younger, which isn’t surprising considering what we saw from Team North America at last year’s World Cup. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau and many others are still incredibly young, but also dominant. (NHL.com)

Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets this offseason, so he made his way back to Nashville where his career began. It’s early, but he looks rejuvenated now that he’s back with his old team. He’s scoring, contributing and causing problems for the other team in front of their net. (Tennessean)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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McKenzie on Penguins’ cap space, Capitals’ free agent decisions (Video)

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About 1:20* into the video above this post’s headline, hockey insider Bob McKenzie shared some interesting tidbits with NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen regarding potential future moves for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the case of the Penguins, McKenzie reports that the team is happy with what they’ve seen from the wonderfully named Greg McKegg so far, but they’re still looking to add a more proven third-line center.

When it comes the the Capitals, McKenzie notes that there’s still plenty of work to do regarding pending free agents John Carlson and Lars Eller.

Let’s break down the facets of both situations.

Deadline dealers or something sooner?

So, at the moment, Cap Friendly pegs the Penguins’ cap space at about $2 million. That number could go up a bit in demoting a cheaper, younger player to the AHL, which they’d need to do if they added a player via a trade.

McKenzie is right in stating that the Penguins have a rare amount of breathing room in the Sidney CrosbyEvgeni Malkin era. They can chalk that up to making tough decisions like parting ways with Marc-Andre Fleury and having crucial bargains in Matt Murray and Jake Guentzel‘s rookie contract.

Theoretically, the Penguins could work something out for Matt Duchene, thus sparing him from absorbing more abuse from childhood heroes (has Adam Deadmarsh badmouthed Duchene yet?). That would likely require the Avalanche to retain some of Duchene’s $6M cap hit.

At least, it would now. What if the Penguins instead opted to be trade deadline buyers?

Well, Cap Friendly estimates their deadline cap space at about $9.3M.

Some rentals work out like Bill Guerin did for the Penguins, while others fall closer to, say, Alexei Ponikarovsky. If McKegg is the guy at 3C for longer, here’s how he looked coming into Thursday:

Three games played: one assist, 24-20 on faceoffs, six shots on goal, 15:38 time on ice average, solid possession stats.

Not too shabby, but when you’re shooting as high as the Penguins are, you might want to invest in some third-line center insurance.

A quick look at Eller, Carlson

Even if you don’t think John Carlson, 27, is too great in his own end, you’d probably have to admit that he’s well worth the near-$4M cap hit he’s carrying right now because of his outstanding offensive output.

The scoring side of Carlson’s HERO chart makes your eyes pop so much that you almost miss the not-so-great “shot suppression” category.

via Dom Galamini

So, the question is, how much will Carlson cost and would it be worth it to the Capitals?

Washington is carrying cap hits in Matt Niskanen‘s $5.75M, Brooks Orpik‘s $5.5M, and Dmitry Orlov‘s $5.1M on defense. Overall, they have $58.9M in cap tied up in 13 players, according to Cap Friendly.

As a UFA with some big scoring numbers, Carlson could command a nice raise. The Capitals showed courage in letting Karl Alzner walk, so it will be fascinating to see what they do with Carlson.

Personally, Lars Eller is a very nice player, but possibly a luxury at his current rate of $3.5M. In a way, allowing him to walk might sting just as much because he’s been a handy answer to what was once a long-standing Capitals question at third-line center.

Still, the Capitals need only look to the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks to realize that successful NHL teams sometimes allow valuable players to walk.

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All of these cases are pretty interesting to watch. These two teams remain prominent because of their stars, but also their willingness to adapt.

* – Before that, McKenzie shares some interesting numbers and analysis about the league’s crackdown on slashing. Stay tuned for post on that, possibly on Thursday.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Matt Duchene doesn’t take comments from ‘hero’ Peter Forsberg personally

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Imagine if someone you idolized – the kind of person whose posters might have been up in your room* – one day said that you should be “benched and traded.”

Maybe Peter Forsberg’s tone wasn’t harsh in a Swedish interview about Matt Duchene, but it all seemed like the latest unpleasant moment for a player who went from Colorado Avalanche fan to a key player for the Avs.

Consider that Duchene is also being shopped by Avs GM Joe Sakic, surely one of his other childhood hockey idols.

If nothing else, Duchene continues to take the high road, even if some statements resonant a little better than “here to honor my contract.” As NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reports, Duchene didn’t fan the flames when it came to Foppa’s comments, backing up that he looked up to Forsberg as a kid.

“I don’t think it was meant to be anything personal,” Duchene said. “He and I have a great relationship. I’m not taking it personally. I think he’s just commenting on a situation. A lot can get lost in translation too.”

And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that Duchene and the Avalanche are off to a nice start.

Despite beginning the season with three straight road games, the Avalanche are 2-1-0. Duchene scored a goal and an assist in his first contest and created a lot of offense in his second. He was quieter in his third, but the Avs beat the Boston Bruins 4-0, so there likely weren’t many complaints.

In Benjamin’s piece, you’ll note praise from Jared Bednar and that Duchene said it’s fun to be the older guy in Colorado (and he also believes that his line is creating some serious chances).

At this point, it’s easy to tip your hat to Duchene. All signs point to him playing hard and having a good attitude, at least outwardly.

Maybe some of his heroes – whether it be Forsberg, Sakic, or someone else – could do him a solid and say something a little more positive about him? Such a gesture could be beneficial for everyone, really.

* – This doesn’t apply if you had a bunch of muscle car posters, unless you’re in a “Knight Rider” reboot.

Peter Forsberg advises Avalanche to bench and trade Matt Duchene

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You know what’s a good way to feel old? When once-great players start to sound a bit like cranky old men.

Peter Forsberg didn’t torch Matt Duchene in a Swedish interview (translated by Sports Expressen’s Robin Lindgren, passed along by the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers). Even so, the criticism was pointed enough to make an impact: Forsberg believes that the Avalanche should bench and trade the speedy forward.

From a chemistry standpoint, that idea is understandable, whether Duchene is really “visibly unhappy with the team,” as Chambers writes, or if the admittedly amusing memes that surfaced ended up blowing things out of proportion.

Either way, Foppa’s idea would be wildly counterproductive.

For one thing, it’s difficult to claim that the effort isn’t there for Duchene. The 26-year-old scored a goal and an assist in the Avalanche’s first game of the season, and while he wasn’t able to score against the Devils, he fired five shots on goal.

He seems like he’s doing more than going through motions, whether it’s wishing people a happy holiday:

Or interacting warmly with young fans:

Is he enjoying this process? Probably not. Maybe there are times when he’s indeed surly, and his teammates probably don’t love the idea of answering questions about him for however long this takes (if a trade even happens).

But imagine how much worse it would get if the Avalanche scratched Duchene for … not smiling widely enough?

From a sheer practicality perspective, it makes little-to-no sense. Even if his attitude is less than optimal, it’s clear that GM Joe Sakic wants to get as much value as possible for Duchene in a trade. Having him rot on the bench would only drive that trade value down, especially if there are murmurs that he’s riding the pine because of attitude problems.

Nope, the Avalanche should take the opposite approach. As this PHT pre-season post argues, they should instead put Duchene in every situation to generate numbers, possibly even beyond what he could do over a longer haul.

In other words, Sakic probably respects Forsberg deeply, but he should ignore his former teammate on this one.