CORAL SPRINGS — Long after his teammates with the Florida Panthers had left the ice on Wednesday morning, Anthony Duclair was still working on different parts of his game including tipping shots in front of the net.
The Panthers’ team leader in goals with six through the first nine games this season (Sasha Barkov passed him in No. 10), Duclair knows all too well that a hot shooter can go through a cold streak at any time.
Working on getting a couple down low can either help extend the heater that he is currently on — or help snap a cold spell he hopes never arrives.
”I have obviously been on the other side of it,” Duclair said. “You just want to keep the good things going, create those chances and build that confidence. Ride that wave as long as possible but don’t get too high or too low. I have learned that over the years. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform every night. I expect a lot out of myself.”
And Duclair’s strong play has helped the Panthers to one of the best starts in franchise history.
During Florida’s second game, he was moved back up to the top line with Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe — where he spent most of last season — and that has paid off in a big way for both Duclair and the Panthers.
“I’m really excited,” Duclair said a day before Florida beat the Capitals 5-4 in overtime on Thursday.
“(A fast start) was an emphasis last year and no one really saw it coming. After the year that we had, we had high expectations especially with the new faces that we added. I think we have met those expectations and now we need to find that consistency over the course of 82 games.”
Being able to play with the likes of Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau was a big selling point when general manager Bill Zito was trying to get Duclair to sign with the Panthers as a free agent at the end of 2020.
Duclair was not made a qualifying offer by the Ottawa Senators despite a 23-goal season and an All-Star appearance allowing him to become a free agent.
He did not sign with the Panthers until December, a few weeks before the start of the 2021 training camp but felt due to his past personal relationship with Zito and Florida’s talent, it was going to be a good fit.
And he was not wrong.
”Yeah, it was huge obviously seeing that core group and that was something I wanted to be a part of,’’ said Duclair, who ended up being tied for fifth on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 32 points in 43 games.
Almost all of that scoring came 5-on-5 as he ended with a plus-27 which was by far the best of his career and ranked just behind MacKenzie Weegar (+29) for best on the team.
“We’re all kind of the same age and that kind of works out, too. We had this offseason which was big for our organization. We locked up a few key pieces and to be able to sign here for another three years is a great feeling. … We just know as a team, we can do a lot of good things.”
Duclair has bounced around a bit in what has been a nomadic NHL career.
A third-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2013, Duclair played his rookie season with the Blueshirts before he was sent back to his junior team in Quebec to finish the 2014-15 season.
It was there that Duclair was traded to Arizona as part of the Rangers’ deal to acquire Keith Yandle.
As it turned out, it would be the first of a number of address changes for Duclair.
Duclair spent a few seasons with the Coyotes and reportedly requested a trade. He was sent to the Blackhawks in 2018, was not offered a qualifying offer at the end of that season and ended up signing in Columbus with Zito and the Blue Jackets.
After a fast start with the Jackets, Duclair was traded to Ottawa at the deadline for Ryan Dzingle and he spent parts of two seasons with the Senators.
Now with the Panthers, and signing a three-year extension in the summer, Duclair looks to have finally found a place to settle in.
“I thought that (I found that) in a couple places, to be honest,” he said. “But nothing like here. Obviously coming here with Bill Zito, who I knew in Columbus, things come full circle. Different connections have been built through different teams I have been on and it is great to see that management here believes in me. I come here and work as hard as I can everyday.
“I have found a home here in Florida. There is no better place to be, honestly. I’m really excited, really happy.”
South Florida is not close to his hometown in Quebec and, due to the closed border last year, did not get to have his family come and see him play in his first season with the Panthers.
But this is a different year.
Duclair said his mother Dominique Raphael was able to attend some of the Panthers’ first games of the season. And, he’s going to treat his family to a Christmas in Florida this year.
”In Ottawa, I had a great time. It was two hours from home,” he said. “II had family and friends coming to games pretty often and that situation was awesome. But living here in Florida, it’s summer all year round. And the group of guys in that room are really tight, like family, especially with what happened this season and last year with Covid, not being able to go out and stuff. For myself, this was a great fit.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
CAROLINA HURRICANES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- WHEN: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560-AM
- Last season: Carolina won 6-0-2