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Panthers Pregame: Anthony Duclair is back, faces former Senators teammates

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Anthony Duclair, center, celebrates a Florida Panthers goal with Gus Forsling, Anton Lundell and Frank Vatrano earlier this season. Duclair will face his former Ottawa Senators teammates tonight for the first time since becoming a free agent following the 2019-20 season. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

For the first time since Nov. 24, Anthony Duclair will be back in the Florida Panthers lineup — and it so happens he will face his former Ottawa Senators teammates for the first time since they allowed him to walk away as a free agent in 2020.

In what ended up being his final season with the Senators during the 2019-20 campaign, Duclair hit the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career and participated in his first NHL All-Star Game.

Despite that, he was not tendered a contract by the team and thereby became an unrestricted free agent.

“I was kind of shocked, but at the same time, it’s just business,” Duclair said on Tuesday morning.

“You kind of move on, you turn the page. It’s been a year or so now, so I’ve turned the page a long time ago. But for myself, you just learn about the game every day. That’s just another example, that being a business, it is what it is and now I’m in a really good spot and I’m really happy where I am, so it kind of worked out for me.”

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Duclair, suddenly a free agent and serving as his own representative, spoke to a number of teams once free agency opened but kept coming back to speak with Florida GM Bill Zito.

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Zito helped bring Duclair to Columbus in 2018 and, even though the Blue Jackets traded him to Ottawa later that season, the two kept a relationship.

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 conversations with Zito and Florida’s talent, it was going to be a good fit.

Not long after signing, Duclair said Zito was one of the first people he talked to upon becoming a free agent.

“Bill Zito and I had numerous conversations these past few months since I became a free agent,’’ Duclair said then. “It wasn’t always talk about contract negotiations and stuff like that.

“Sometimes we’d talk about hockey, myself and how I’ve grown these past few years. I just felt like this was the right fit for me and I just decided to pull the trigger on Florida.”

Tuesday night, Duclair gets to play his former team for the first time since signing with the Panthers.

”Yeah, for sure,” Duclair said when asked if he has any extra juice going up against his former team.

“I’m in a new place and some old friends, it’s always a good battle. I’m very excited to be playing against those guys, obviously a lot of friends on the other side, but I’m really excited to match up against them after a year.”

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Since joining the Panthers, Duclair scored 19 goals and 49 points in 62 games, including nine goals and 17 points in 19 games this season.

He also got a three-year contract extension this past offseason.

Duclair has missed the last eight games with an injury although it was thought he would have returned a couple days ago as he practiced with the team on the recent road trip.

“I thought I could’ve come back last game, but I wasn’t too certain about it,” Duclair said. “I didn’t want to come back and re-injure it again. It’s awesome to be around the boys and get skating again, feeling good on the ice.

“I’m excited to be back.”

Injury Updates

  • Ryan Lomberg is currently in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and is unavailable for tonight’s game. He is the first Panther to miss a game due to COVID-19 protocol.
  • Noel Acciari skated for the first time since leaving the Panthers’ preseason game in Orlando with an upper-body injury on Oct. 5. He remains “month-to-month,” per interim coach Andrew Brunette.
  • Mason Marchment remains “week-to-week” despite taking line rushes with the main group.
  • Gus Forsling has the flu, per Brunette. He didn’t take morning skate, but he could potentially be in the lineup tonight. “We will see how the day goes,” Brunette said.
  • Aleksi Heponiemi is coming up from the AHL and could possibly be in Florida’s lineup if he makes it to Sunrise in time.

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