Anthony Duclair’s journey from third-round pick to top-10 NHL goal scorer

Arash Madani caught up with Anthony Duclair to discuss his hat trick that lifted the Ottawa Senators to a win against his former team the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Anthony Duclair has probably scored against your favourite team this season.

He’s currently top 10 in the NHL goal scoring. He’s also 24. He’s also on his fifth NHL team.

Read those last three sentences back a few times; they make less and less sense with each read.

Only one player drafted after Duclair in 2013 has played more than the 322 NHL games he has (Andrew Copp) and nobody taken after Duclair has scored more goals, assists, or points. In fact, out of all 2013 NHL draftees, Duclair is 14th in total points and eighth in goals. Not bad for the 80th overall pick.

How does a guy get let go by four different teams – once for absolutely nothing – before his 24th birthday only to become one of the top scorers in the best hockey league on the planet?

The clear answer would seem to be that this is a one-off and Duclair will only ever score this many goals once in his NHL career. This is it. It’s a one-off. Except it isn’t and he scored 20 goals in his first full NHL season. Oh and by the way, that season was spent with his second NHL team. I know, right?!

Let’s take a look at the complicated journey that has been Anthony Duclair’s career so far.

THE START OF THE ROAD

During the 2011-12 campaign, a 16-year-old Anthony Duclair scored 31 goals and 35 assists for 66 points in 63 games with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. The next season, Duclair’s NHL draft year, he put up 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points in 55 games. For those of you playing at home, that’s not as many points as the year before. Despite that, the New York Rangers scooped him up with the 80th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Duclair followed up his draft year with 50 goals and 49 assists for 99 points in 59 QMJHL games. That’s fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that Duclair ended up making the New York Rangers to start the 2014-15 NHL campaign.

The Rangers will give Duclair a few games, he’ll get a little taste, and then probably go back to junior, right?

Well, the weirdest thing happened – Duclair was really good. He put up one goal and five assists for six points in his first nine games. Now the Rangers had a problem: Do they keep Duclair past nine games or send him back to junior?

The Rangers kept him. And then he had just one assist over the next nine games.

The season wasn’t lost for Duclair. He was a key part of Canada’s gold medal win at the world juniors, assigned back to the Quebec Remparts, and had a spectacular run in the QMJHL playoffs despite injury. Unfortunately, the Rangers had still burned one year of his entry-level contract for keeping him as long as they did.

And now we have the perfect storm:

• The Rangers, who had just been to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, wanted to load up in 2015 for another run at the Cup.
• Duclair burned a year of his ELC, adding a little incentive for them to trade him.
• Duclair proved that he was pretty darn close to NHL-ready, making him an attractive prospect to any team looking to add young players.

On March 1, 2015, the Rangers pulled off a blockbuster with the Arizona Coyotes.

THE FIRST TRADE

The Rangers acquired high-scoring defender Keith Yandle, Chris Summers, and a 2015 fourth-rounder. In exchange, the Coyotes got a 2015 second, 2016 first, defender John Moore, and Duclair.

What’s been said about Duclair’s time in Ottawa so far? I always hear “This is the perfect situation for him!” The same could have been said about this trade to the Coyotes.

Instead of battling for ice time on a Cup contender, Duclair got to carry the offensive load in Arizona. In his first full NHL season in 2015-16, Duclair scored 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games, good for fourth on the Coyotes in points and third in goals. Not far behind him in the goal department was his former Canadian world junior teammate and fellow rookie Max Domi. The Coyotes weren’t great but the kids were alright.

The next season was a disaster.

In 2016-17, Duclair only put up five goals and 15 points in 58 games. He wasn’t the only one – Radim Vrbata was the only Coyote to crack 40 points that season. Duclair even spent 16 games in the AHL where he only had eight points.

THE SECOND TRADE

In 2017-18, Duclair’s offensive flair came back a bit. With 15 points in 33 games, Duclair was right back around a 40-point pace. Despite that, we have another trade to announce.

Arizona traded Duclair and Adam Clendening to the Chicago Blackhawks for Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin. Duclair only managed two goals and eight points in 23 games with his new team, plus Brad Marchand did this to his knee.

As a result, Duclair wasn’t even given a qualifying offer by the Blackhawks, and became a restricted free agent.

Again – Duclair was still just 22 years old and only two seasons removed from scoring 20 goals on a team that couldn’t score in Arizona.

ON TO TEAM NO. 4

Duclair signed a one-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets for $650,000 in 2018-19. Not a bad bet for a now 23-year-old who once scored 20 goals. It certainly helped that in October of that season he was doing stuff like this.

Fast forward to February and Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella had this to say about Duclair, when asked if he had a willingness to learn:

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t know. If you had asked me that a few weeks ago… I don’t think he knows how to play. I don’t. It seems to me he’s like a player that feels he can get the puck – because he’s tremendously skilled, can skate, he has all those things you guys know – I just think he thinks he can go do whatever the hell he wants on the ice. He can’t do it in the National Hockey League. We have spent a lot of time trying to teach him, trying to teach him situational play, away from the puck, all the stuff we do with players. Sometimes it looks like he’s understanding. To answer your question – I don’t know. I don’t know if he just can’t comprehend it or he’s just stubborn. But he’s running out of time.”

A few things there…

In fairness to Tortorella, he later explained that he loves the teaching aspect of coaching. The quotes before that are still harsh.

Secondly, that wasn’t even the most ridiculous thing Tortorella said during that press conference. You might remember that as the day he spoke about Artemi Panarin being so sick that he crapped his pants.

Finally, I’m trying to get over the irony of Tortorella calling somebody stubborn.

Torts was right about one thing: Duclair’s time in Columbus was up.

THE THIRD TRADE

The Blue Jackets acquired Ryan Dzingel and a seventh-rounder from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, along with Duclair. Just like with the Rangers, Duclair struggled to make a lineup built to contend and was sent to a team in a rebuild.

Duclair put up eight goals and 14 points in his 21 games in Ottawa to end the 2018-19 season. As you know, Duclair is killing it this season with 19 goals and 26 points in 35 games so far. Hilariously, the two second-rounders Ottawa got from Columbus could be somewhere from 32nd-40th overall at this rate. And the players chosen there could even end up playing on Duclair’s line some day soon.

A QUICK RECAP…

• Duclair burns Year 1 of his ELC before going back to junior
• Gets traded to Arizona because he was a good prospect on a contender
• Scores 20 goals in first full season
• Sophomore slump
• Scoring improves, traded to Chicago anyway
• Struggles in Chicago, gets injured, doesn’t get a qualifying offer, walks
• Signs in Columbus, can’t stay in the lineup, gets traded to Ottawa
• Becomes Rocket Richard, tears out John Tortorella’s soul and shows it to him

Now we can start to answer “What happened?”

First, it should be conceded that Anthony Duclair isn’t a perfect player. That should come as no surprise since literally nobody is. Is Duclair the best in his own end? Is he flawed without the puck? Maybe, but his skill, potential, and resume are thoroughly there.

I look at this whole journey and see a butterfly effect and bad luck.

If Duclair doesn’t have that hot start in 2014-15 and burn year one of his ELC, does he get traded to Arizona?

Why did Arizona want to deal Duclair for Panik’s $2.8 million contract? Did they want Laurent Dauphin that badly? And why did the Blackhawks simply let Duclair, who was an RFA, walk for nothing? Would Duclair have put up more than one point in nine playoff games like Dzingel got for Columbus?

At the end of all of this, Duclair is still just 24 and making $1.65 million. He seems like exactly the sort of guy the Sens should keep, doesn’t he? If his demands for his next contract are a bit too rich, a rebuilding team like the Sens will still have to consider trading him by the deadline.

But after everything Duclair has been through in the six years since he’s been drafted, I think he might like to take off his coat and stay a while.

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