A Deep Dive: The Curious Case Of Anthony Duclair's Hockey Career

By Chris Pennington on December 1, 2018 at 10:15 am
Anthony Duclair has 12 points in 24 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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Anthony Duclair had 12 points in his first 16 games as a Columbus Blue Jacket.

He seemed to be playing with loads of confidence, his stock was rising and the city was rejoicing that they nabbed this diamond-in-the-rough forward for just $650,000.

The following eight games since then, however, Duclair has recorded just two points, a 7.1% shooting percentage and barely over 11 minutes of ice time per game, one of the lowest averages on the club.

While there's still reason to be hopeful - we've definitely seen this before.

This, is the curious case of Anthony Duclair.

Duclair's history in the pro league is a peculiar one. He was taken as a third rounder in the 2013 NHL draft, coming off a respectable season of 50 points in 55 games for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL.

His next season with the Remparts, just after being selected by the New York Rangers, Duclair put up 99 points in 59 games. If there were any doubt, it was gone. He was pro-ready.

Duclair started the next season on the Rangers roster, ready to continually prove himself. And at the start, things looked great.

At the age of 19 and just nine games into his professional career, Duclair had registered six points in nine games, and was even getting opportunities on the power play, racking up about 13 minutes of ice time per game. 

Nine games in nearly secured him a full-season spot, but it only took nine more games for the vibes to completely change. Recording just one point in that stretch and watching his ice time get knocked down to 11 minutes a game was the last Duclair saw of his time with New York.

Duclair spent most of the rest of that season in the QMJHL before being traded to the Arizona Coyotes in March of 2015.

Duclair didn't play with the Coyotes until the start of the 2015-2016 season, where he finally experienced some consistency in an 81-game season. He put up 44 points, which included 20 goals, eight of them being on the man-advantage.

As the next season rolled around, Duclair was expected to perform well again and continue to grow. But after just nine points in 41 games, he was sent down to the AHL for a few months, and though he came back up to the Coyotes at season's end, it was clear his time was running short there.

Halfway through the 2017-2018 campaign, Duclair was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks. Eight points in 23 games later, and Duclair was sitting as a free agent in the summer of 2018.

So, here we are. A roller coaster of a career that no one really expects to have when they're just 22-years-old.

Duclair needed a chance for someone to believe in him, and the Blue Jackets took that chance. A minimum contract wasn't much of a risk, and Duclair wanted to be a part of what was growing in Columbus:

"I did my homework, talked to a couple guys and heard nothing but good things (about Columbus)," Duclair told former Columbus Dispatch Reporter Brian Hedger after officially signing in Columbus. "I was pretty excited for the opportunity and for them to just give me a shot. I'm grateful and I'm just really excited to get things going."

There was a calm excitement around the arrival of Duclair, and he didn't disappoint early on. 

Anthony Duclair had 12 points in his first 16 games as a Columbus Blue Jacket.

In early November though, Duclair began to see his ice time getting smaller and smaller. In a game against the Rangers on Nov. 10, Duclair was benched for all but 40 seconds of the third period and overtime combined.

Fans and media were scratching their heads simultaneously, wondering why coach John Tortorella was pulling the minutes of the talented young forward.

And Torts, as usual, responded:

“He still has to learn how to play away from the puck, still has to learn how to check,” Tortorella told The Columbus Dispatch. “Do I want to turn him into a checker? No, but he has to understand there’s some responsibility there. I’m sure that has hurt him with some other teams early in his career."

After Duclair was reported as "dinged up" and ruled out for this past Thursday night's game against the Minneosta Wild and Oliver Bjorkstrand drew back into the lineup, the questions started to trickle in about Duclair's stability in the lineup, especially after Torts' further comments to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline: 

“It’s Duke and Oliver,” Tortorella said. “I have to make a decision. They’re going to have to battle it out as far as who plays.”

There is absolutely a place for healthy internal competition on a hockey team, but it seems to be a battle Duclair has had to deal with far too many times for how talented of a player he is. But these competitions don't seem to be done without reason - there have been moments of questioning Duclair's drive by former and current managements that brings some clarity to his situations.

"You never want to sit out, not only myself but anybody else here. It sucks sitting out. So, that’s all I’ve got to say," said Duclair to Hedger on being a (healthy or unhealthy, still to be determined) scratch for the Minnesota game.

Anthony Duclair's history of quick starts followed by sizzling out are certainly concerning, but he's not a guy that the Blue Jackets want to give up on easily. He's one of the more skilled players on the club, and will need to make some adaptations to his game (mainly defensively) that Tortorella will not settle for otherwise.

Some coaches might, but not Torts. Duclair has much to prove still, but so much to give. Here's to a long career in Columbus for youngster.

I mean, he himself said in the summer he wanted it:

"After my first year, my career sort of went sideways and downhill," Duclair said. "This is not how I wanted it to go, but at the same time, I know what I have to do now to stick with a team. I had a good chat [Thursday] with 'Torts' and Jarmo, and I think this is the best fit for me going forward in my career. I've heard good things and I think this is the right system, where I can shine as a player."

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