Devils’ Scoring Depth Could Get Boost With Duclair

The New Jersey Devils have been in a shooting slump for close to a month now. They can only shoot 6.6 percent for so long before their shooting luck turns, and there are some signs that may be happening. Still, adding a scorer to the roster is something general manager Tom Fitzgerald will likely consider ahead of the trade deadline in two months. 

The obvious targets for the Devils would be Timo Meier or rentals such as James van Riemsdyk or Vladimir Tarasenko. But one name they should also have on their trade board is Anthony Duclair of the Florida Panthers. He hasn’t played in a game yet this season after tearing his Achilles while training this offseason. The Panthers have to get cap compliant when he returns, and it’s possible they could trade him to do so based on Frank Seravalli’s trade board. Let’s look at why he may be a fit in New Jersey. 

Duclair Is an Underrated Scoring Threat

Duclair has always had goal-scoring potential. He had a solid rookie season in 2015-16 as a 20-year-old when he posted 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games with the Arizona Coyotes. However, progress isn’t always a straight line, and he did struggle to find twine in the ensuing years. 

He took a significant step back in his sophomore season, finishing with just five goals and 15 points in 58 games. Some of that was injury-related and poor shooting luck (6.6 shooting percentage), but the Coyotes still ended up trading him to the Chicago Blackhawks ahead of the trade deadline during the 2017-18 campaign. 

It wasn’t until 2018-19 that Duclair re-found his scoring touch. He ended up in Ottawa with the Senators after a midseason trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets and put up eight goals and 14 points in 21 games in the Canadian capital. Since then, he’s done nothing but put pucks in the back of the net. 

Anthony Duclair Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers winger Anthony Duclair (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Since Duclair hasn’t played this season, we’ll use data from 2019-22. Over that stretch, he had averaged 29 goals and 58 points per 82 games. He was one of the most efficient five-on-five scorers in the league, averaging 2.27 points per 60 minutes — a better scoring rate than forwards such as Patrice Bergeron, William Nylander and Kyle Connor. 

When it came to scoring goals, Duclair averaged 1.02 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five, a top-50 rate in the league. That was the same rate as Aleksander Barkov and ahead of other top-end scorers such as Matthew Tkachuk, Mitchell Marner and Meier. He’s a 13.6 percent career shooter, and per Money Puck, his predicted shooting talent projected to be 6.3 percent above the league average this season. 

If there is one downside to Duclair’s game, it’s he’s a net-negative defensively. But the Devils wouldn’t be bringing him into shut down opponents’ top lines. They’d be acquiring him to score goals, and everything else about his game checks out. His even-strength offense is a significant positive, he’s a plus finisher, and he’s played with quality teammates and against tough competition, meaning he could probably handle a second-line role in New Jersey: 

Anthony Duclair Florida Panthers
Anthony Duclair JFresh WAR Player Card, 2019-22

The question is, what would the Devils have to give up to acquire Duclair if the Panthers decide he’s the one they’ll move out to get cap compliant? Given their situation, this could be a chance to give up minimal value to add some scoring help. 

Duclair for Future Considerations? 

Obviously, the Devils would have to be OK with Duclair’s medicals before acquiring him in a trade since an Achilles tear is a significant injury. But if everything checks out, it’s unlikely Fitzgerald and the Devils would have to give up anywhere close to their best assets to acquire the 27-year-old winger. 

Could this be a future considerations-type deal such as the one where the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Max Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights for literally nothing? It honestly could be, but even if it isn’t, the Devils should not have to give up anything of value. A second-round pick and prospect are not on the table here, and a first-rounder and top prospect certainly aren’t either. 

Related: Who is the NHL’s Top Goaltending Prospect?

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Another comparable could be the Blue Jackets dealing Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken this summer. After signing Johnny Gaudreau in free agency, the Blue Jackets needed to open up cap space, which they did by trading Bjorkstrand for just third- and fourth-round picks in the 2023 draft. At the time of the trade, Bjorkstrand had averaged 30 goals and 60 points per 82 games from 2019-22, nearly identical to Duclair over that same stretch. 

Bjorkstrand is under contract through the 2025-26 season and was healthy when the Blue Jackets traded him. Duclair is coming off a serious injury and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024, so it’s possible — maybe likely — that he costs less than Bjorkstrand in a potential trade. That’s especially true since everyone knows the Panthers have no choice but to make a deal to get cap compliant. 

Anthony Duclair Florida Panthers Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Anthony Duclair of the Florida Panthers waits for a tip-in attempt in front of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

That’s why the Devils and Fitzgerald should at least be checking in on Duclair. And at a cap hit of $3 million for only a year and a half, they’ll still have other avenues to keep adding to the roster, even ahead of the trade deadline, though they might have to shed a bit of salary to do so. 

Another thing for the Devils to consider is the Andrew Brunette factor. Duclair played under Brunette last season when he was nominated for the Jack Adams Award as the Panthers’ interim head coach, finishing with 31 goals in 74 games, a career-high. Brunette is now an associate coach on Lindy Ruff’s staff with the Devils, so there probably isn’t anyone better than him when it comes to knowing how and where he’d fit into this Devils lineup. 

Devils Will Have Options for Scoring Help

The Devils’ shooting woes will likely end with or without acquiring Duclair. With that said, it wouldn’t hurt them to add another scorer somewhere down the road. And they’ll certainly have their fair share of options if that’s what Fitzgerald decides the team’s most pressing need is during the second half of the 2022-23 season. 

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