Blue Jackets acquire center Matt Duchene from Ottawa
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Matt Duchene from the Ottawa Senators on Friday in exchange for a 2019 first-round draft pick and two top prospects, adding a veteran center as they make a push for a playoff spot.
The 28-year-old Duchene, one of the top players available ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline, was dealt for forwards Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson. Columbus also got minor league defenseman Julius Bergman hours before the two teams played each other in Ottawa.
Duchene did not record a point in 19:11 of ice time in his Columbus debut as the Blue Jackets beat the Senators 3-0.
Columbus will send an additional 2020 first-round draft pick to Ottawa if it is able to sign Duchene to a contract extension. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, as will new Columbus teammates Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
“Matt Duchene is an elite player in the National Hockey League, and we are extremely excited to bring him to Columbus,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He is a tremendous skater, exceptional in the faceoff circle and a proven goal scorer and point producer in our league. We believe he is a tremendous fit for our team.”
Duchene is the second-leading scorer on the Senators with 58 points (27 goals, 21 assists).
The Blue Jackets moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with Friday night’s win, and Duchene said he was excited to have a shot at the playoffs.
“That’s what I’m looking for and that’s what gets me up every morning for sure,” Duchene said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of good international teams and win some big tournaments, but I’ve never had a chance to play in the playoffs consistently.”
The Blue Jackets badly needed a play-making center behind top-liner Pierre Luc-Dubois.
Boone Jenner was pressed into action as the second-line center this season but has battled injuries. Coach John Tortorella has expressed frustration with the lack of production from centers Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky.
Wennberg finished the 2016-17 season with 59 points but his performance has dropped off. He and Dubinsky have combined for seven goals and 33 points this season.
A two-time All-Star, Duchene has 228 goals and 307 assists in 704 career NHL games with Ottawa and the Colorado Avalanche, where he spent his first eight seasons after he was the third overall pick in the 2009 draft. This season, he has won 55 percent of his faceoffs and is averaging 19:14 of ice time.
The Senators are at the bottom of the NHL standings and there have also been off-ice problems.
Owner Eugene Melnyk threatened to move the club if ticket sales didn’t improve a month after Duchene’s arrival. Assistant GM Randy Lee was charged with harassing a 19-year-old male hotel shuttle driver at the pre-draft combine and eventually stepped down. The wife of Senators captain Erik Karlsson made cyberbullying accusations against the fiancee of winger Mike Hoffman, who was quickly traded — and then Karlsson himself was sent to San Jose at the start of training camp.
“When we acquired Matt in November of 2017, we had hoped his addition would drive us to another deep playoff run,” general manager Pierre Dorion said. “Obviously that did not materialize; more than a year ago, we shifted our focus to a proper rebuild of the entire organization. Our desire was to have Matt be part of this and as such we approached him with a fair and comprehensive contract offer to remain a Senator for the long term.
“As soon as it was determined that he did not want to be part of our rebuild, we shifted our focus to see what assets we could acquire in exchange for Matt that would help grow our pipeline of potential.”
The 20-year-old Abramov, a winger, had 12 goals and 10 assists in 54 games for the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters this season. The 21-year-old Davidsson has 10 goals and 10 assists in 35 games during the forward’s fourth season with Djurgarden of the Swedish Hockey League.
The three-team trade with Nashville that brought Duchene to Ottawa included the Senators sending their first-round pick to the Avalanche, and that will happen this year after the Senators took Brady Tkachuk fourth overall last June. Under Friday’s trade, if Columbus misses the playoffs and wins one of the first three picks in the lottery, the Blue Jackets keep that pick and Ottawa will receive Columbus’ 2020 first-round selection instead.
It all means the Ottawa could end up missing out on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the presumptive top picks in the 2019 draft.