Tough Decisions: Matt Duchene vs. John Tavares

Updated: September 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm by Alexander Monaghan

Tough decisions is a column which will run every couple of days. The premise of said column is to help you decide which of similar players to draft, depending on your league’s format. As we near Opening Night, more and more leagues are drafting, which leads us to continue helping you make the right call.

John Tavares and Matt Duchene are about as close as you can get in fantasy hockey and in real life. Both centers were drafted just two seasons ago with just two spots separating them. While Tavares was somewhat expected to make his lowly New York Islanders by default, his counterpart Duchene impressed during camp, forcing his way onto the team in a checking role with the Colorado Avalanche.

Tavares will start the season as the team’s bonafide top-line pivot. His linemates, expected to remain PA Parenteau and Matt Moulson, certainly aren’t the strongest supporting cast, but they work. Tavares helped his AHL journeymen score 20 and 30 goals, respectively, with Moulson trying to repeat that plateau for the third time in as many years. Clearly, the 20-year-old (his birthday is actually today) helps his teammates improve opposed to looking better by his surroundings.

In his second NHL season, Tavares improved his point totals with his goals increasing from 24 to 29 and his assists from 30 to 38 — good for a 13-point increase. If we are to project a similar improvement, then Tavares likely tops 30 goals and finishes with a tidy 83 points. The former first overall pick possesses an uncanny knack for scoring goals and should be considered a lock to continue his ascent into the elite ranks.

If you drafted the Mississauga, Ont. native last year he helped your fantasy squad in goals (33rd), assists (47th), power play goals (37th), power play assists (46th) and shots (29th). His PIM spiked from 22 to 53 but he never reached above 72 dating back to his Junior days. His plus/minus might kill your rotisserie squad with a career minus-31 rating which is a certain weakness. However, his Islanders finished in the middle of the pack in goals forced, so that particular counting stat may even out eventually.

On the other hand, Duchene plays on the first line, or 1A line. His mentor Paul Stastny arguably takes away some of his even strength minutes but the two play together on the power play which keeps him valuable with the man advantage. His linemates, expected to be Milan Hejduk and the fully recovered Peter Mueller, probably pose a greater, more established threat than the Isles’ top line; but not by too much. In fact, one could argue, on last season’s totals alone, that the Isles have a stronger top unit. Regardless, Duchene managed to improve his point totals while playing with almost nobody fantasy relevant outside of Hejduk — who missed 11 games — on his line consistently.

Likewise, in Duchene’s second NHL campaign, the 20-year-old saw his goals increase by three and assists jump up by nine — giving him a 12-point jump over the previous season. If we take that same jump into account then Duchene also enters the elite ranks with 31 goals and 52 assists — which is one point more than Tavares.

If you took this Haliburton, Ont. native in your draft last season he helped your fantasy squad in goals (41st) and assists (41st) while posting OK stats across the rest of the board. His plus/minus only slightly hurt at minus-7 but his powerplay goals and assists failed to rank in the top-50. Considering his team ranked 11th in power play efficiency, his lack of production could be a cause for concern.  In addition, his shot totals of 202 was relatively weak among starting centers. Duchene never reached higher than 42 PIM in either Juniors or in the NHL, so don’t count on any bonuses there either.

Overall, the Isles took Tavares over Duchene because he frankly has a better nose for the net. While his team might drag him down opposed to Duchene’s slightly helping him, it seems clear that Tavares posts more counting stats at the end of the season. Furthermore, the Islanders and Avalanche are slated slightly improve which could affect plus/minus rankings significantly — the only major flaw with either player. Duchene holds one more point than Tavares since the two were drafted over two years ago but the latter has scored more goals. Regardless, they sit one and two in production from that draft class and could be interchangeable depending on what your fantasy hockey squad needs.

(Editor’s note) Both players are getting taken at the end of the fifth round or the beginning of the sixth. At that value you likely would still like to stockpile goalscorers which makes Tavares the obvious pick. While Duchene might produce more assists in the long run, a player like Mike Ribeiro is available in the 11th while Tomas Plekanec and David Krejci hold a 13th round price tag. Goals outweigh assists in most leagues which makes Tavares just slightly more favorable of a pick provided both maintain a similar trajectory and stay healthy.

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