After months of waiting, Matt Duchene feels he is finally closer to "playoff hockey."
Duchene skated in his first practice with the Ottawa Senators on Monday, something he admitted was a bit surreal. Less than 24 hours earlier Duchene was still a member of the Colorado Avalanche, but thanks to a three-way deal the 26-year-old finally had his wish for a trade granted.
"I feel like I'm kind of in a dream world right now," Duchene said.
The Senators acquired Duchene from Colorado on Sunday as part of a trade that included sending Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators.
For Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, the trade was a "no-brainer."
Ottawa was a goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup final last season, and Dorion said acquiring a forward of Duchene's calibre will allow the Senators to build on that success.
"[Sunday] was a great day for the Senators franchise," said Dorion, who had expressed his interest in Duchene months ago to Colorado GM Joe Sakic. "After a great playoff run last year we feel we've added an elite forward to our group ΓÇª someone we feel that can help us take to the next level. We've acquired a player that we're really excited about acquiring. We felt this deal for us was a no-brainer in what we had to give up."
Duchene has four goals and 10 points this season through 13 games with the Avalanche. The third-overall pick in 2009 has 178 goals and 250 assists in 586 career games.
Sensing the Avalanche were headed for another rebuild last season, Duchene requested a trade from Sakic, someone he had idolized from the time he was a child. It was the hardest thing he had to do, but felt it was necessary.
"I wanted to play playoff hockey," Duchene said. "I've got eight playoff games to my name right now and for me that's not where I want to be at this point of my career. I only get one shot at this; I only get to play this game for however long my body lets me play."
Facing old team right away
Duchene now gets to move past the drama of the last year that took a mental and emotional toll on the native of Hailburton, Ont.
"Last year was the hardest thing I've ever been through in terms of being on a hockey team," Duchene said. "It was a maturity process for me, a learning process and I think something that's made me stronger. I feel like I've had a really good start to the season and I want to keep it going here. I think there's another level I can get to in my game."
Senators coach Guy Boucher plans to play Duchene between Zack Smith and Mike Hoffman for now.
"It's going to be about chemistry," Boucher said. "We're trying to create what you would consider two top lines. With Duchene we have that opportunity."
Boucher had the opportunity to work with Duchene as an assistant coach for Canada's 2008 under-18 gold-medal-winning team and is excited for what Duchene can bring to the Senators.
Duchene won't have to wait long to face his former team — the Senators' next two games are in Sweden against Colorado as part of the NHL Global series.
"It's going to be very strange," Duchene said. "First of all playing a game in Sweden is strange. Back-to-back is tough and then playing against my former teammates and friends is even weirder, but at the same time there's going to be a level of comfort since I played against these guys in practice every day."
Losing Turris, who had spent the past six seasons with the Senators, was difficult, but with the 28-year-old set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and a contract extension unlikely, as Turris was looking for a seven or eight year extension, this was the best-case scenario.
Once the deal was completed Turris went on to sign a six-year, $36-million extension with the Predators.
"It's confusing to some fans and it's confusing to me too because that was never brought on the table," said Dorion of the six-year deal. "Only seven and eight year deals were discussed with the Ottawa Senators."
Duchene has one more year remaining on his $6-million contract after this season. He can start working on an extension as of July 1.