I get asked a lot why I'm so interested and involved with prospects. A lot of people understand the importance of prospects -- along with tracking their development -- but don't really do much more than quickly scan the stats and make mental notes about who to keep an eye on in the future.
When I get asked why I probe deeper and track draft prospects all year I always give the same answer: There's nothing better than when a home-grown prospect shines.
And it's true. There's nothing better than a kid coming through your team's farm system, who has been with the team his entire career succeed and thrive. When that player is good (think Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky or Artem Anisimov) it's really cool. When that player is great (think Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan or Chris Kreider) it's amazing.
Anthony Duclair is a little different.
No one really knew about Lundqvist until he burst onto the scene. Stepan and Kreider were amazing in college, but never really found the spotlight until they dominated in the World Juniors. McDonagh I'm including because his entire professional career has been with the Rangers, and no one in New York (or Montreal apparently) knew anything about him until the Rangers traded for him by giving away five more years of Scott Gomez to Montreal.
When Kreider was on his way up -- especially after the playoffs in 2011 -- I talked a lot about how social media warped the way we looked at prospects. With Twitter and Facebook keeping everyone involved by the second, the hype had never been giver for a prospect than it was for Kreider. A lot of that had to do with the highlight videos, the few college games on TV and the tweets where everyone was gushing over him. Perception can be reality. And the reality was the perception when Kreider burst onto the scene in the playoffs three years ago.
Enter Duclair, a free-falling third round draft pick who the Rangers snatched up with the 80th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. If you haven't read how Duclair fell to the Rangers, read that link above to get a better idea of why 29 other teams allowed Patrick Roy to change their drafting strategy and let Duclair to fall to the Rangers.
All Duclair did the next year was notch 50 goals for 99 points in 59 games. He then parlayed a fantastic camp this year into a spot with the New York Rangers at 19 years of age. Which is also sort of where things get weird.
Duclair has six points in 12 games, is averaging 12:26 a game and somehow keeps finding himself either on the fourth line with Tanner Glass or watching games in a suit in the press box. It's strange, especially since Duclair has really spread his wings when Alain Vigneault has given him an opportunity in the top six.
Why is that a problem? Well, let's take a look.
Right now Duclair is sporting 2.33 points per 60 minutes played. Only Rick Nash (3.88), Derek Stepan (small sample size, but 3.67), Derick Brassard (2.92), Chris Kreider (2.75) and Martin St. Louis (2.67) are ahead of him. Glass -- with no points on the season -- has 0.00 points per 60 minutes played.
If you shift to assists per 60, Duclair comes in a 1.94. That's best on the team -- excluding Stepan who has a 3.67 assists per 60 due to his small sample size. Duclair has been a better playmaker in the time he's on the ice than Brassard (1.57), Kreider (1.65) and St., Louis (1.56) by a decent margin. Glass, once again, has 0.00 assists per 60 because he has yet to register an assist.
Duclair has been somewhat sheltered (61% of his starts have been in the offensive zone) which helps, but he's producing with that advantage -- as he should be.
Simply put: Duclair needs to play. He needs to play every game, and he needs to be given prime opportunities to succeed. The fact that Duclair has sat in the press box for three games but is still with the big club speaks volumes. Vigneault knows he's too talented for the juniors. Just look at his answer Tuesday when asked about sitting Duclair.
AV on Duke: "He’s a very young player. I get it. He has to play but he’s not playing tonight and tomorrow is another day."— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) November 11, 2014
Isn't that a strange answer? Doesn't the "I get it" come off as Vigneault saying something along the lines of, "I know it's bad that he's sitting but I don't have a solution." Except there is a solution, and it comes in the form of sitting Glass and putting a more skilled lineup on the ice.
Duclair helps the Rangers a lot more than Glass does. And once again the Rangers have a slow start they need to make up for.
I don't understand how Duclair isn't playing every night, but I do feel a little better when I see Vigneault say things like this:
AV repeats Duclair is day to day as far as when he plays again. But says he has a skill set he hasn't seen in a lot of young players.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) November 12, 2014
It's a small consolation when he's sitting in the press box, but if the head coach doesn't realize a player's talent he'll never see the ice. Maybe Vigneault is right -- he also said Duclair might benefit from the press box -- but that needs to be more of a rarity than it is right now.
Otherwise Duclair would be better served in Juniors.
And no one -- not even Vigneault -- wants that.