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A Scout's Life: Could Duchene topple Tavares?

Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion is a sure-fire first round pick in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion is a sure-fire first round pick in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

“Will Duchene overtake Hedman or Tavares? I don’t know. Quite honestly I’m glad I’m not in that position. I think Duchene could put up some serious numbers in the NHL someday.” - NHL scout.

If you tune in at home or pop down to Brampton to watch the Ontario League’s Battalion play, the first player you might look for is Cody Hodgson, THN Future Watch '09 cover boy and a prospect icon since his showing for Canada at the world juniors.

But the first player you might notice is a 5-foot-11 blur streaking from end-to-end they call Matt Duchene. As fans, Duchene’s speed will grab your attention and his skills will hold it steady; as an NHL scout, they’ll make you spin and shake your head.

Decision, decisions.

The 2009 draft has been all about John Tavares and Victor Hedman, but as the day of destiny draws near, difficult questions have to be asked thanks, in part, to the late-season explosion from Duchene, a native of Haliburton, Ont.

“Now all of a sudden you’ve got this guy Duchene who’s ripping it up,” said one scout. “There might be people out there saying ‘holy smokes, this Duchene kid is playing really well, he’s a great skater.’ Now he’s got people thinking. For a while it was Tavares-Hedman-Cowen, now Duchene is making things hectic.”

Jared Cowen, a 6-foot-5 defenseman from the Western League’s Spokane Chiefs, has been sidelined with a knee injury and it has yet to be determined how it will affect him in the long-term. Even though scouting staffs already generally know what these prospects are capable of at this time of year, an injury like that will make anyone take a second look at the field.

And as the old hockey adage goes: You can teach defense, but you can’t teach scoring.

“Now you’re looking at a Matt Duchene and saying ‘this guy can generate a lot of points, a lot of offense, maybe we’ll take him ahead of Cowen,’ ” one scout said. “The teams picking that high have got to be thinking that. They have to be, because Duchene is a helluva player.”

For nearly a year now Tavares and Hedman have been the faces of 2009. When two players are praised, fawned for and drooled over for that long, it’s difficult to fathom anything but status quo. However, as games roll by, deficiencies are picked at and debates of merit flourish.

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In fact, what will go down at the draft in Montreal is in many ways similar to what went down at the draft in Ottawa last year.

“Duchene has been playing really well and is looking good, so now you might move him up,” explained one scout. “So now you move Duchene up to No. 3 and is that high enough? Seriously. If some teams find Tavares’ skating a problem...I mean, he’s a real question mark. It’s no different than Stamkos and Doughty last year. I talked to guys who had Stamkos No. 1 from Day 1 and then other guys thought, ‘whoa, just a minute here, that defenseman is pretty damn good, too.’ But nobody would really jump up and say ‘well I’d take Doughty ahead of Stamkos.’ ”

So, though Hedman has been accused of being soft and Tavares’ skating is a very real issue – as one scout mentioned, you have to watch Tavares play games on back-to-back nights to measure how sluggish he can be – they’ve been established for so long that it’ll be a tough call to knock them from that perch.

“It’s a whole lot easier to fall in love with a guy you see daily,” one scout said. “As far as when you get into the argument about Player A vs. Hedman or Player B vs. Hedman, I think it’s easy to make that argument from a North American against a European because you just don’t have that daily barrage of media about Victor. I have all my notes in front of me, so you’re not as influenced by those emotional swings. I mean, they happen, but you have 10 months of empirical, objective data that can hopefully outweigh the emotional data.”

Stay tuned. While the consensus still holds that Tavares and Hedman will go 1-2, all it takes is one draft list to differ from public perception to surprise us all.

A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.

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