The Florida Panthers have a myriad of top-level contributors on their roster, but one player who has particularly flown under the radar this season is Anthony Duclair.
Duclair ranks second on the team with 13 goals — just behind Sasha Barkov — and sixth on the team in points (23) despite missing eight games.
“He’s unreal. He’s a really great hockey player, a great guy, and he’s always dangerous, ” Barkov said.
“He’s always there to score a goal, to get a breakaway, to make nice plays, so I’m really, really happy for him and really happy to have him on our side and watch him play.”
With breakaway speed that not many players in the league can match and a keen eye for the game, Duclair adds even more to what is a very deep forward core in South Florida.
“I’ve really liked it,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said when asked about Duclair’s game.
“He brings a real dimension to our hockey team, an important dimension with the pace he plays at and the speed, he backs people up, and he’s been consistent.”
Duclair always had a scoring touch, but it took a few years for it to come consistently.
Prior to joining the Panthers, Duclair hit the 20-goal mark twice, including in 2019-20 when he was named an NHL All-Star in what ended up being his final season with the Ottawa Senators.
Despite finishing the season with 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games, Ottawa decided to let Duclair walk in free agency.
He stayed a free agent until December, a few weeks before training camp started, when the Panthers signed him on a one-year, $1.7 million contract.
He showed flashes of being that top-flight goal scorer, notching 10 goals and 32 points in 43 games, but still struggled with building that consistency.
This season has been a different story.
“I think at times with him, he’s given you three or four really good games and then it falls off,” Brunette said. “This season, he’s been really consistent and he’s been bringing it every night.”
While his goal-scoring numbers have been jumping off the charts, it has been Duclair’s play in other areas that impresses Brunette the most.
“What I’ve really picked up and enjoyed is that he’s working much harder away from the puck,” Brunette said. “I think when he does that, he’s extra effective with the puck. He’s been one of our best players and he’s had a great year.”
It has been something Duclair said that he has been working on over the past few years, and it really paid off.
“Some of that takes a lot of mental abilities to do and just growing and being in the league long enough, you know what to expect from opposing players. Just watching video and learning more about the game has been pretty beneficial for me,” Duclair said.
“The better you play without the puck, the more opportunity you get, the more trust you get from your teammates and coaching staff, so that’s what I’m trying to do and I’m just trying to grow my role on this team each and every day.”
Duclair played for five other teams in five seasons before landing in South Florida, but he found a home with the Panthers.
“I just feel way more comfortable off the ice with the guys in the locker room and come in to the rink with a positive attitude,” Duclair said.
“It definitely helps when you’re winning games and you’re having fun with the guys. We’re just so tight-knit in the locker room, it makes everything easier.”
Duclair missed eight games with a lower-body injury but came back with the same jump he had at the beginning of the season.
Since returning on Dec. 14, Duclair leads all Panthers players in goals with four, notching six points in the seven games he played since returning to the lineup.
He has been rewarded with top-unit power play minutes, and it gave the team a serious jump in an area where it was lacking.
Before the holiday break, the Panthers ranked 24th in the league with a 16.1 percent power play percentage. The Panthers improved to a 31.3 percent efficiency in the five games they played since returning from the break.
“When Duclair is playing at the level he’s playing right now, he’s as deadly as anyone in the game,” Brunette said.
“These are really good opportunities and he deserves every inch he’s gotten here. He’s a pretty dynamic player and he deserves to be playing on the power play.”