Until a January 2016 trade that brought Ryan Johansen to town in exchange for Seth Jones, the Nashville Predators never truly had an elite, No. 1 center. Now, they have two.
Matt Duchene signed a seven-year, $56 million contract last week, giving the Predators two centers with 30-goal, 70-point seasons – something the franchise has never had.
While the $8 million per year price tag that comes with Duchene certainly seems steep — especially with the Preds paying Johansen the same $8 million and Kyle Turris $6 million per – Nashville now seemingly has the dynamic 1-2 punch at center ice that it thought it was getting when it traded for Turris two seasons ago.
Now the question becomes, where does Duchene fit in the Predators’ lineup, and how is Johansen affected by it?
“Ryan is a tremendous player and I’m excited to talk to him,” Duchene said. “I think the relationship between your top two centers is really important. You’ve got to be supportive of each other, and there’s always that bit of internal competition, which is a really healthy and good thing.
“But at the same time, when you look at any other good team in the league, they have two really good centermen. I think the fact that you push each other is a good thing.”
Rather than view his new situation as a competition with another elite player for top-line minutes, Duchene was quick to point out that the relationship between a team’s top two centermen should be a supportive one, stating he believe he and Johansen will bring out the very best in each other.
“The best teams that I’ve been on and the guys that I really enjoyed working with was the other top-six center,” Duchene said. “You make each other better and that’s something that is really important. I’m looking forward to talking with (Johansen) and getting to know him and working together. You should always be happy for each other when you succeed and all the time.
“I think sometimes in this game, there’s definitely situations where guys are competing almost too much. It’s a very fine line, obviously, with the competitiveness in that relationship, but I think at the end of the day, I’m really excited to work with him.”
With the addition of Duchene, the Predators now possess something they were lacking for much of last year and into the playoffs: two, legitimate scoring lines.
The assumption is that Duchene will slot in on the second line, centering Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith, while Johansen will stay on the top line with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson.
This would allow Nashville to keep the JoFA line together, which has accounted for 222 goals (Johansen 43, Forsberg 85, Arvidsson 94) and 521 points (Johansen 179, Forsberg 172, Arvidsson 170) over the last three seasons.
Over that same span, Duchene has accounted for 76 goals and 170 points, which is right on pace with Johansen’s totals. With the addition of Duchene’s production over the last three seasons, it puts the Preds second line in a better position (197 goals, 478 points) to compete or match the production of the first line.
“There’s definitely no shortage of talent throughout the entire lineup, not just the top six,” Duchene said. “Obviously, that’s where I’d like to fit in with that group and that’s what I’ll be working towards. There’s definitely no bad options of guys to play with here.
“The talent is amazing on a team that coming into Bridgestone Arena as a visitor and you’re playing against those guys, you know what they bring and what they can do. For me playing with Colorado as long as I did and being in the same division, you quickly find out about this team. So, I’m excited to be on the home-team side of Bridgestone now.”