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It was nothing doing for Walker Duehr in his second NHL season

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Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Wilson
27 days ago
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In February of 2023, Walker Duehr jumped into the lineup and gave the stumbling Calgary Flames a much-needed jolt of youth and speed. He impressed in the back half of a frustrating season and emerged as a fan favourite with his blend of size, skill, and hard-nosed style. Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry the momentum from his strong showing in 27 games the year prior into the 2023-24 season.
Let’s look at Duehr’s campaign as we wind down our player evaluations here at FlamesNation.

The past

An undrafted player, the South Dakota native was signed by the Flames as a free agent out of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2021. He made his NHL debut in the 2021-22 in a single appearance with the big club and suited up for 59 games in Stockton with the Heat.
A nice stretch with the Calgary Wranglers earned him a call-up in January 2023. Duehr impressed almost immediately as he brought a much-needed injection of speed and physicality to a plodding Flames’ bottom six. An impressive stretch in March of 2023, in which he tallied three goals and six points in 10 games, highlighted an impactful first full-time NHL stretch for the 6’4” winger. He was a bright spot on a disappointing Flames team. Duehr made a strong impression on management, earning himself a multi-year, $1.65 million contract.
27-game sample be damned, he seemed poised to expand on his role as every team’s dream on the fourth liner: a physical, hardworking, fast, and cost-effective skater with some goal-scoring upside.

The present

Duehr began to find himself in and out (mostly out) of the lineup this season and by the turn of the calendar in January, he had tallied a single goal and only four points. He looked like a different player under new head coach Ryan Huska. Darryl Sutter’s high-paced, effort-heavy system likely favoured Duehr’s game. He could not find a way to affect games with any consistency. Duehr was waived in January and assigned to the AHL Wranglers.
Shortly thereafter, he was recalled but still found himself in the rotation of popcorn eaters as he continued to struggle to find his game. There were merely flashes of the effective brand of hockey we began to expect from the NHL’s first South Dakotan. His production drastically dipped as did his shot contributions at 5v5.
Shots/60Shot Attempts/60Hits/60
2022-2310.29 (2nd)17.44 (4th)12.3 (2nd)
2023-245.5 (15th)11.76 (15th)11.00 (4th)
(5v5 data from Natural Stat Trick. Team ranking in brackets)
He struggled to find and cement his role on the team and was passed on the depth chart almost completely by players such as Martin Pospisil, A.J. Greer, and Kevin Rooney.
It was a difficult year for the now 26-year-old who looked full of promise. It wasn’t just the lack of production; likely he was never going to score at the clip he did in the back half of 2023… but we didn’t see much of the physicality, efficient forechecking, and disruptive speed that made him so effective in those 27 games.

The future

Perhaps the Duehr hype was overblown coming out of the 2022-23 season but surely there is still an effective hockey player in there somewhere. There’s no denying he has the physical tools to be a useful bottom-six forward. It would be prudent to view his entire body of work (a mere 68 games) as a single season. Many players hit a wall after the grind of consistent NHL playing time.  It is an ‘everyday league and second-year struggles are extremely common.
Duehr still possesses a nice blend of skill, speed, and size but it will be on him to find a way to be an effective NHLer night in and night out.
There will be plenty of motivation as Duehr is signed for one more year before becoming an unrestricted free agent. There will be plenty of internal competition and open spots in the upcoming season. Flames general manager Craig Conroy has made it clear this season that the mandate is to create competition and fill out the roster based on internal merit.
It’s a huge year for Duehr. He needs to get back to basics and do what he does best: play with pace, disrupt on the forecheck, and use his speed and physicality to create havoc.

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