Duchene: "You're going to be judged ... at the end of your career, not the beginning"
In the third and final installment of our conversations with the top three draft-age players, forward Matt Duchene displays his maturity and even keel. He will need it. Speculation in the Long Island newspaper Newsday in recent days is the Islanders may be looking athim as the No. 1 overall draft choice. Let's keep that in perspective, of course, as all three players, including defenseman Victor Hedman and John Tavares, have been rumored to be the pending No. 1 pick. Still, for Tampa Bay, a Duchene pick by New York would be a gift (as would a Tavares pick) as the Lightning is focusing on Hedman at No. 2.
How would you deal with the pressure of being a top pick?
I don't think you think about it too much. You're going to be judged at what you do at the end of your career, not necessarily the beginning. Right off the bat, look at a guy like (Steven) Stamkos, who had a transition phase last year out of juniors and really came on at the end of the year. People were questioning him at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year they loved him. You look at something like that and you just try to adjust and get in there as quickly as possible and feel comfortable. There's going to be a transition phase with everybody. It doesn't matter who they are. It's important not to think about the pressure and be happy with your situation and keep an even keel."
What's the strangest question you got at the combine?
Toronto asked us, they gave us a piece of paper and it had three pictures on it, Barack Obama, Maria Sharapova and Sean Avery, and you got to pick one to go out to dinner with."
Who'd you pick?
"Part of me wanted to say Maria Sharapova, but my brain told me to say Barack Obama, so that's what I went with."
If Tampa Bay had asked why you want to play for the Lightning, what would you have said?
"Obviously, it's an organization that's on the rise. I didn't know much about the rink and the (locker) room, but today we got a little tour here and it's an unbelievable facility. The rink's basically your second home, so you want to feel comfortable, and this is a place I can definitely see myself and other guys feeling very comfortable. Guys like Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are great players, and it'd be great to play with them and learn from them. If I happen to land here, a guy like Stamkos, I know him a little bit. I used to play against him while growing up. He'd definitely be a guy I'd try to lean on to help in the transition into the league."
Do you know any other Lightning players?
"(Just Stamkos). I used to play against him from 8 to 14. He played for Markham and we played them twice a year. They always beat the crap out of us. They're probably one of the best teams to ever play minor hockey."
On the video going around of Duchene in Avalanche gear:
"When I was younger, I was a big Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy fan, so that explains that. I obviously didn't know that stuff would be coming out now. The jerseys I had on the wall when Bob Hartley was with the Avalanche, my grandpa knows him, and he got me a couple of autographed jerseys, and I got them cased. That's when I was younger. As I got older, and those guys left, I wasn't as big a fan of them. This past year, I haven't been a fan, really, of anybody because I know I'll probably be the property of someone soon. I think it's important to build that fan site, so when you play your favorite team, you still want to meet them."
What's the attention been like?
"Well, during the season or during the end of the playoffs, I didn't think about it a whole lot; just kept a team-first mindset. But since that's ended, I've had a chance to step away from things. It's been pretty crazy, doing a lot of different stuff for TV. You just try to have fun with it and not think of it as a hassle because it only happens once in your career."
On his rising stock:
"It's a big honor because those guys (Tavares and Hedman) have been there forever, and righfully so. It's an honor to e up there with them. They're two great guys and great players. It's pretty neat to be going through all of this with them."
What's the biggest difference in your game now?
"I think it was just a building process. Coming into the league last year, I wasn't great in my own end and more of a one-way player. I really was taught how to play defense in Brampton. It wasn't that I wasn't willing before, it was just I didn't know how. I was really taught how to do it and bought in and caught on pretty quick, and was able to build on that every month of this year and keep it going and really round out my game."
Are you surprised to be here with Tavares and Hedman?
"Somewhat, yeah. Obviously, it's a pretty big investment on the team's part ... obviously they have a big decision to make. Not knowing who the Islanders are going to take, it could be any two of us that could be left over from that pick. It's a research process and it makes sense. ... It's such a business. You go from minor hockey to junior hockey. And junior hockey is such a business. You have a transition phase there. You go from there to somewhere like here. The three of us are getting a pretty good orientation as to the business side of things and how serious everything is taken. I think it's good for us to see that and know how important the decisions are that teams are making, so that we can take it as seriously as we should."
Feeling any pressure to compete with the other guys?
I roomed with John at the combine. We didn't know each other too much before then, and really got to know each other and have gotten along quite well. I met Victor at the combine as well, and we've been together the last few days. ... I don't think any one of us is trying to overshadow anyone else. We're just trying to be ourselves. That's what everyone wants to see, so you don't have to put on any sort of show."
Would you be disappointed to return to juniors?
"That's ideal (to be in the NHL). I think I'm pretty ready for the jump. There's a few things, obviously, I don't know about yet and have to experience and get used to; being around older guys and just the different pace, the amount of time you have out on the ice. That's stuff I have to wait and experience. But if I do go back to junior, I have a great place to play and a chance to play on the world junior team. It wouldn't be the worst thing. Like I said, I'm young and have, hopefully, a long career ahead of me, and a lot of time to make a squad. I don't think there's any rush. But I'm definitely going to try my best to make it this year."