Anthony Duclair is one of the newest Ottawa Senators, coming in through the Ryan Dzingel trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. At just 23-years-old, the Senators are Duclair’s fifth team in his NHL career, which doesn’t really give fans a whole lot of confidence in the new pick-up.
Related: Dzingel Traded to Blue Jackets
However, joining the team in the first year of the rebuild, Duclair has a chance to put his career on the right path, and help to lead the Senators into what owner Eugene Melnyk describes as “unparalleled success.” Not exactly a fan favourite or a team favourite, perhaps the latest transaction can help Duclair become the player many thought he would be when he was drafted.
Duclair was Promising Coming into the NHL
Ahead of being drafted 80th overall in 2013 by the New York Rangers, and even at points after that, there was a lot to like about Duclair. He had a stellar record in the QMJHL and was a star for Team Canada during the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship.
His time in the QMJHL was spent with the Quebec Remparts where he spent three full seasons and part of a fourth. Over that time, Duclair put up 249 points in 203 games. In his rookie season with the Remparts, he scored 31 goals and 66 points through 63 games, earning him a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. The next season, he was added to the CHL Top Prospects game and participated in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup for Team Canada. In the QMJHL, he collected 20 goals and 50 points in 55 games.
He continued his early success in his third season, 2013-14, with his most impressive totals yet. In 59 games, Duclair had 50 goals and 99 points, earning a First-Team All-Star nod. This happened to be his season immediately after being drafted by the Rangers, earning him a hard look in training camp for 2014-15. He came out of the gates strong, leading the team with five points in five games in the preseason and sticking with the club to start the season. He played 18 games, scoring one goal and seven points with the Rangers before being sent back down to the Remparts and was traded to the Arizona Coyotes before playing another game in the NHL.
Also in that season, Duclair made his name known to anyone who didn’t know it in the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship. Duclair was a star on the team, collecting eight points in seven games, helping Team Canada to a gold medal. It was 2015-16 that Duclair got a full-season look in the NHL, with the Coyotes.
Duclair Has Already Bounced Around the NHL
Duclair’s first full season in the NHL was by far his best, playing on a line with Team Canada teammate, Max Domi. He put up 20 goals and 44 points in 81 games, and was a plus-12. A solid first impression. It didn’t last long though — in 2016-17 he started the first half of the season with the Coyotes before getting sent down to the AHL’s Tuscon Roadrunners for 18 games before getting called up again. Through 58 games in the NHL, Duclair had just five goals and 15 points.
In 2017-18, the Laval, Quebec native recorded nine goals and 15 points through 33 games, but more importantly, he requested a trade away from his second NHL team. The request came Jan. 4, 2018, and six days later Duclair was on his way to the Chicago Blackhawks. He finished the season there, with just two goals and eight points in 23 games.
Duclair ended the season with the Blackhawks as a restricted free agent and the team decided not to qualify him. He hit free agency and on July 5, 2018, signed a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Blue Jackets for this current season. Coming to the Senators, Duclair is already having his second-best season in his career, with 11 goals and 19 points through 53 games.
Lots of Criticism Around Duclair
Right off the bat, his resume doesn’t look great for a 23-year-old. Five teams in five seasons and he’s been traded three times and let walk into free agency as a restricted free agent once. That doesn’t exactly scream confidence. Even his past coaches have expressed their concerns with Duclair.
His coach with the Coyotes, Dave Tippett, didn’t think there was enough effort in Duclair’s game.
“He’s not competing at a level that’s going to let him be effective right now. We’re trying to push him and prod him and we sat him out. We’ll keep coaching away and see if we can get him up to speed but right now he’s not competing at the level we need from him.”
Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, known for holding nothing back, let media know exactly what he thought of Duclair.
“Right now, I don’t know. I don’t think he knows how to play. I don’t. It seems to me he’s like a player that just feels he can get the puck because he’s so tremendously skilled, he can skate, he has all those things as you guys know. I just think he thinks he can 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. So 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.” (From: “Time running out on enigmatic Duclair, a skilled 23-year old on his fifth NHL team” – Ottawa Sun – Feb. 24, 2019).
Tortorella also pointed out that he thinks the winner has “bad listening skills.” If there is a positive side to this, though, it’s that Duclair knows there’s an issue and wants to fix it, as he too is critical of his game.
“When you’re struggling as a team, you look at yourself individually. You ask yourself what you can do better to help the team. I don’t think I’ve been consistent enough, and that’s why my ice time has started diminishing. You have to really earn it.”
Perhaps on a rebuilding Senators, Duclair may be able to earn those minutes back, start to regain his confidence and see his point totals rise.
Can Duclair Find His Game in Ottawa?
Duclair is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so there’s a lot riding on the end of this season. Whether he ends up re-signing with the Senators or they, like the Blackhawks, don’t qualify him and he heads to free agency, the remaining games will dictate where his NHL career goes from here. His early impression on Senators head coach Guy Boucher has been positive to start though.
With Duclair coming into the lineup, Boucher says the past doesn’t matter. Instead, he will “put the counter back at zero.”
“Definitely when you look at him individually, he’s got some really good speed, he’s got some good skill. So we’ll have to figure out who he is, what he feels comfortable with and how we can help him grow.” (From: “Time running out on enigmatic Duclair, a skilled 23-year old on his fifth NHL team” – Ottawa Sun – Feb. 24, 2019).
Starting out in his first game, Duclair found himself on the fourth line. Boucher said that he was impressed with what he saw from the newcomer. For the second and third, he’s jumped up to the first line, playing with Colin White and Brady Tkachuk. It’s obvious that Boucher sees potential in him and he’s already showing his skill, scoring one of Ottawa’s two goals in the 7-2 loss to the Washington Capitals and showing off his speed in all the games he’s played.
Duclair could be a steal in the Dzingel deal. It’s obvious from Tortorella’s comments that he wasn’t working out in Columbus. If he can continue to impress Boucher and play some serious minutes, perhaps Duclair could be a big part of the rebuild moving forward. For the Senators, that is a risk that they are willing to take if the young player can regain his 2015-16 form.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.