Matt Duchene made his first appearance at Nashville Predators training camp on Sunday evening, scoring a goal during the team’s second Blue vs. Gold exhibition and looking every bit like the skilled offensive forward the team wanted when they signed him in 2019.

Skating mostly with newcomers Luke Kunin and Erik Haula, Duchene played with a familiar level of skill and speed that we’ve become used to in Nashville. For fans and coaches alike, it was good to see Matt Duchene back on the ice, as he’d been out of training camp for a full week, deemed “unfit to play.”

“Yeah it was good to see Matt come back in, he’s been off for a while,” John Hynes said after the scrimmage on Sunday. “I think he had one practice, one full morning skate and a practice, so it was good. He looks like he’s got a lot of energy, he’s skating well.”

Though it’s tough to weigh individual accomplishments in an intrasquad scrimmage, Matt Duchene did have a beautiful goal in the 2nd period:

The quick hands, the deception with the puck, the accurate release, and the smooth finish: all of these are skills we know Matt Duchene has in his arsenal.

But John Hynes knows there’s more he could work on, including on the defensive side of the game.

“I thought he made some good decisions with the puck, and I think you know there’s certain things sometimes when you miss some time coming in, there’s some things defensively we can work with him on. But I like his energy, I like his mindset. Him coming into camp the way he’s practiced and the way he’s played. It will be nice to sit down with him over the next few days prior to the game, get some things dialed in and help him get off to a great start.”

Matt Duchene’s first season with the Predators wasn’t altogether an impressive one. He finished below his career average in points and goals per game, and he never quite found chemistry with linemate Kyle Turris. He struggled to become the dominant offensive presence he once was with Colorado and Ottawa.

But if his first action in Predators training camp is any indication, that might be in the past.

Preds need Matt Duchene to find form quickly

The Predators desperately need Duchene to return to form. The “JOFA” line seems to have done so, given their offensive output in the four game loss to the Arizona Coyotes back in August.

But one line is never enough. The Preds are going to need balance.

Duchene will have at least one brand new linemate this year, given that both Kyle Turris and Craig Smith are no longer around. Mikael Granlund was re-signed for one-year surprisingly, and he will probably play wing to Duchene’s center. Granlund is still missing from training camp due to immigration/quarantine from Covid.

So who will play on Matt Duchene’s other wing?

Yesterday, Duchene played with Haula and Kunin most frequently. Between those two, Haula would be the more natural fit. He’s not a “shoot first” winger like you would want for Duchene, but he’s a nice balanced offensive weapon. Plus he plays with a bit more phsyical edge and can go to the front of the net regularly.

But if it’s a “shoot first” option you want with Duchene, the best option would be Eeli Tolvanen.

In training camp, Tolvanen has been on the bottom six, mostly playing with Brad Richardson and Nick Cousins. This is not ideal for a player of his skill, but it made sense with Granlund and Duchene out.

Now that they are back, look for Eeli Tolvanen to get a shot on Matt Duchene’s line, at least initially. In the very best version of this Nashville Predators’ offense, Tolvanen plays sniper to Duchene and Granlund’s playmaker, helping to offset the production lost when Craig Smith went to Boston.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —