The Rangers Should Reunite With Anthony Duclair

Five years ago, Gordie Clark and the rest of New York’s scouting staff took a flyer on Anthony Duclair in third round of the 2013 Entry Draft. As the third of three third round selections by the Blueshirts that year (preceded by Adam Tambellini and Pavel Buchnevich), Duclair was the embodiment of what NHL teams should be doing in the later rounds of the draft. Duclair had scored 116 points in 118 QMJHL games over the previous two seasons, but was rumored to frequently butt heads with Patrick Roy, his coach in QMJHL Quebec, and was labeled as a player with “attitude issues”.

Rather than buy into the nonsense that unspecified “attitude issues” usually are, the Rangers used the 80th pick of the draft to welcome Duclair to the Rangers organization. When Patrick Roy left for the NHL, Duclair flourished in his first post-draft season, scoring 50 goals and 99 points in 59 regular season games, while adding another 26 points in 22 playoff games.

After turning heads at New York’s training camp in 2014, the Rangers made the moves necessary to clear a roster spot for the teenage phenom, and Duclair debuted on the team’s third line alongside J.T. Miller and Lee Stempniak.  While being shuffled around New York’s lineup, Duclair appeared in 18 of the team’s first 23 games through November, tallying six assists and earning his first NHL goal on October 27.

Duclair’s final game with the Rangers came on November 29th, as the team loaned him to Team Canada for the 2015 World Junior Championships following a series of healthy scratches. Following a dominant performance en route to winning gold at the WJC, the Rangers sent Duclair back to QMJHL Quebec, and would ship him out of the organization entirely at the trade deadline as part of a package to land defenseman Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes.

Yandle’s tenure in New York was relatively uneventful, and Duclair appeared to be on the precipice of NHL stardom by the time Yandle’s stint on Broadway came to an end. Duclair stuck in Arizona for the entire 15-16 campaign, and posted 20 goals and 31 assists as a 20 year old playing alongside Max Domi in the Coyotes’ top six, and finished in the top 10 in voting for the Calder Trophy.

Since then, things haven’t gone as planned for Duclair. The 16-17 season saw him suffer through a string of healthy scratches once again, as well as 16 game stint in AHL Tuscon. Heading into the offseason as a restricted free agent, Duclair’s five goal, fifteen point performance in 58 NHL games didn’t give him much leverage to negotiate a contract better than the one year, $1.2 million pact he agreed to. Duclair came back and posted another 15 points in 33 games this season, but Arizona had seen enough to decide that he wasn’t going to be a part of their solution moving forward, and shipped him off to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Duclair wasn’t particularly impressive in Chicago, and the Blackhawks’ management team decided that his 23 games in the Windy City didn’t merit a qualifying offer to retain his rights. That leaves Duclair in the rare situation of heading into unrestricted free agency at only 22 years old, and for a player as accomplished as he is, it’s difficult to understand why:

Outside of his rookie season in Arizona, Duclair’s unimpressive boxcar statistics are the only reason he finds himself heading into July as a UFA. A cursory glance at some of his other on-ice results shows that under the right circumstances, Duclair could be an excellent addition to any team’s middle six. Even if his offense hasn’t developed as one might have expected, Duclair is still a respectable scorer at even strength.

Having scored at a rate 1.65 points/60 at 5 on 5 since 2015, Duclair’s production rate is tied for 136th out of 359 qualifying players, which equates to high-end 3rd line production. While it may not sound overly impressive, 1.65 points/60 puts Duclair at a higher rate than some of the NHL’s most prominent wingers including Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, and the newly signed $49 million man in San Jose, Evander Kane.

Aside from his sneakily solid point production, Duclair’s teams have performed better with him on the ice than off it throughout his career. His +1.56 Relative Corsi For% and +4.53 Relative Expected Goals For% shows that Duclair has been able to rise above sub-par play of his teammates on those dreadfully bad Coyotes teams, and his teams earn a greater share of shots and scoring chances with him. The expected goals mark is particularly impressive, as Duclair is one of only 28 players in the league whose team sees a 4.5% increase with him on the ice.

If actual goals is more of your thing, Duclair grades out even better in that department. Duclair’s +12.91 Relative Goals For% is fifth in the entire NHL since 2015, trailing only Connor McDavid, Kyle Palmieri, the retired Jaromir Jagr, and Sean Couturier. In addition to all of that, Duclair has accrued a +10 penalty differential over his time in the league, so he isn’t a player teams need to worry about killing offensive zone pressure with dumb penalties.

With all of these positives in Duclair’s game, is there any downside to him? In terms of on-ice play, Duclair doesn’t necessarily generate a ton of individual offense. His individual corsi and expected goals ratings are among the dregs of the NHL. While most of the skaters in his vicinity are unskilled depth players, some of the league’s elite playmakers reside in that area as well. Top flight centers like Joe Thornton, Ryan Johansen, and Ryan Getzlaf aren’t prolific goal scorers, but their incredible playmaking abilities combined with talented finishers riding shotgun with them allow them to succeed in spite of not taking many shots themselves.

There’s a very real chance that Duclair isn’t able to crack a seven figure salary in the upcoming season. His qualifying offer with Chicago would have been $1.2 million, and seeing as how they didn’t see that as good value to retain his negotiating rights, other teams could follow suit. The NHL hive mind could see Duclair as someone whose “attitude issues” have prompted three teams to give up on him before his 23rd birthday. Given the issues that have led other players to be moved in recent days, teams could read Duclair’s NHL history as a red flag and pass on the talented young forward.

The Rangers ignored the noise surrounding Duclair five years ago, and it worked out swimmingly for them then. For the presumably low cost to sign him and high upside surrounding him, they’d be wise to ignore the noise one more time and take a flyer on their former top prospect.