Duch­ene back at his nat­u­ral po­si­tion

Avalanche star loves be­ing re­turned to cen­ter

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Terry Frei Terry Frei: tfrei@den­ver­post.com or @TFrei

Af­ter play­ing right wing for sig­nif­i­cant stretches this sea­son, Matt Duch­ene is back at cen­ter.

The Avalanche’s lead­ing goal scorer — he had his 11th and 12th of the sea­son Wed­nes­day in the loss to Philadel­phia — doesn’t mind the move.

“I love it,” Duch­ene said Thurs­day. “It’s my nat­u­ral po­si­tion. I en­joy play­ing right wing, depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, but at cen­ter it’s con­sis­tent. I al­ways feel in the game. I like hav­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity de­fen­sively that you have more as a cen­ter­man than as a winger.”

When the Avalanche at­tempts to snap its home-ice los­ing streak at six games Fri­day against the Florida Pan­thers, Duch­ene will cen­ter Mikhail Grig­orenko and Mikko Ran­ta­nen for the third con­sec­u­tive game.

That fol­lows winger Gabe Lan­deskog’s re­turn from a 10game ab­sence with a lower-body in­jury. At least for the time be­ing, hav­ing Duch­ene on the right side with Lan­deskog and cen­ter Nathan MacKin­non in an at­tempt to load up a top line, or hav­ing Duch­ene on the right side with any­one, are dis­carded strate­gies. Rene Bourque is play­ing right wing with MacKin­non and Lan­deskog.

“I never played wing un­til last year,” said Duch­ene, who fin­ished 2015-16 with a ca­reer-high 30 goals. “Last year, it worked a lit­tle bit, but I also fin­ished at cen­ter. Last year, I was play­ing a lot of cen­ter, and I was with Grig­orenko and (Jarome) Iginla. I played prob­a­bly the last 25 or 30 games at cen­ter last year.

“I’ve al­ways played real well with Grigo. He’s a guy who has the abil­ity to be a star in this league. I think he’s still find­ing his way as an elite player, a top-six guy. The good thing about him is he wants to do it. And Mikko, I think this is an up­com­ing star. He and I read each other re­ally well. He knows what he wants to do with the puck be­fore it gets to him and that’s a rare qual­ity.”

Grig­orenko, 22, also is a nat­u­ral cen­ter, and un­til Ran­ta­nen, now 20, suf­fered an an­kle in­jury dur­ing rookie camp, the Avs were tak­ing a look at him at cen­ter.

“Even when I was play­ing right wing, I was kind of a hy­brid of a winger and a cen­ter,” Duch­ene said. “I’d come down low a lot, deep into the zone, and I’d take some draws. With these guys, it’s no dif­fer­ent. They have cen­ter­man qual­i­ties. If you go back to the year we won the di­vi­sion (2013-14), when (Ryan) O’Reilly and I were play­ing to­gether, he was a nat­u­ral cen­ter­man play­ing on the wing and we ba­si­cally shared the role. It’s a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity some­times and I think that makes ev­ery­body bet­ter, ev­ery­body more en­gaged in

FLORIDA AT COLORADO Spotlight on Pan­thers RW Jaromir Jagr: NOTE­BOOK Pan­thers:

Win­ning the At­lantic Di­vi­sion with 47 vic­to­ries and 103 points, the Pan­thers were one of the up­beat sto­ries last sea­son but have re­gressed in 2016-17. … Since the Pan­thers sur­pris­ingly fired coach Ger­ard Gal­lant af­ter a loss at Carolina and Gal­lant was seen (and pic­tured) try­ing to hail a cab af­ter get­ting the news, Florida was 2-3-3 head­ing into the Win­nipeg game. Gen­eral man­ager Tom Rowe has added coach­ing to his du­ties.

Se­myon Var­lamov, who came out of his 51-save game at Toronto on Sun­day with a groin mus­cle is­sue, didn’t prac­tice Thurs­day, and Calvin Pickard again will get the start in goal, with Spencer Martin back­ing him up. But Var­lamov went on the ice on his own af­ter prac­tice in full gear, test­ing the in­jury. … Avalanche coach Jared Bed­nar la­beled Var­lamov “day by day” and added, “We’ll see how he feels and then hope­fully at some point here he can start tak­ing some shots.” … De­fense­man Fran­cois Beau­chemin also didn’t prac­tice. Bed­nar said Beau­chemin “got banged up” in Wed­nes­day’s loss to Philadel­phia but prob­a­bly would be able to play against the Pan­thers. … Cen­ter Joe Col­borne re­mained off the ice Thurs­day with a lower­body in­jury and won’t be avail­able. … Colorado hasn’t won a home game since a 4-1 rout of Los Angeles on Nov. 15.

Avalanche:

7 p.m. Fri­day, ALT; 950 AM

This will be a matchup of the top two ac­tive ca­reer goal scor­ers in the NHL — Jagr, who had 755 go­ing into the Pan­thers’ Thurs­day night game at Win­nipeg, and the Avalanche’s Jarome Iginla, with 614. Also, with 1,883 points, Jagr was within four of catch­ing Mark Messier, who is sec­ond on the all-time NHL list with 1,887. (Wayne Gret­zky has 2,857.) Jagr will turn 45 in Fe­bru­ary. the game.”

Ran­ta­nen, the Avalanche’s firstround draft choice in 2015, has four goals and nine as­sists in 23 games.

“We’re just two games to­gether, and we’re try­ing to build some chem­istry,” Ran­ta­nen said. “Af­ter ev­ery prac­tice, we feel more com­fort­able. It’s get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter.”

Grig­orenko, who came to Colorado in the trade that sent O’Reilly to Buf­falo in June 2015, has strug­gled to score with the Avs. Grig­orenko had six goals last sea­son and has three goals and seven as­sists this sea­son.

“It’s a great op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially for me,” he said of the line. “We all play a sim­i­lar style, like to con­trol the puck and pass and make plays. I think we have some chem­istry go­ing and hope­fully we can pro­duce a lit­tle bit more the next few games and stick to­gether as a line. It would be good per­son­ally for me and good for the team if I would be able to pro­duce the way I’d like to.”

Of course, with the Avalanche search­ing for some­thing — any­thing — to get this team out of its funk and shed the ig­nominy of hav­ing the fewest points in the NHL, it’s prob­a­bly wise to write down the line com­bi­na­tions in pen­cil only … and have an eraser handy.

Matt Duch­ene, right, is con­grat­u­lated by Nikita Zadorov on Wed­nes­day af­ter scor­ing a goal.

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