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‘That’s Our Trade:’ Florida Panthers Get Anthony Duclair Back

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Anthony Duclair was all smiles Thursday as he takes part in his final practice before making his season debut on Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres in Sunrise. — Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers will celebrate Black History Night at their game on Friday, the same one in which Anthony Duclair plays for the first time after missing the entirety of the season.

Yes, he says that makes the evening all that more special.

“A lot of emotions put into this one,’’ said Duclair, who was born and raised in the Montreal area and is of Haitian decent.

“It is a big night and I do realize it’s Black History Night as well. The timing could not have been more perfect.”

Duclair has been out since sustaining a torn Achilles tendon while doing offseason workouts in Montreal over the summer.

The injury needed surgery and a strenuous rehabilitation.

”I knew it as soon as it happened,’’ Duclair said, “and knew, even before surgery, that it was going to take a long time. There was no sense for me to feel sorry for myself and my teammates expect me to be ready. My offseason was a little more extended. I took this time to reflect on hockey, on life and all the things going on. I took it as a blessing and took it in a positive manner.”

Duclair said the support of his family, friends and teammates — not to mention those who have gone through similar recoveries such as former teammate Jonathan Huberdeau — helped kept him strong along the long road to recovery.

For months, Duclair was limited in his workouts as the tendon healed.

And, by the looks of him, he worked out a lot.

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Duclair reported to camp in South Florida with his teammates, bringing his trainer from Montreal.

A number of family members came south as well.

”With an injury like this, you never want to feel alone,’’ Duclair said. “I am very close to my family and they have come down a few times, my cousins and friends made the trip. It wasn’t hard to motivate them to come down from Canada but they have been awesome. And my teammates were there every day for me. It was awesome.’’

Duclair would often attend games with his father Wendell, the two watching from high above either seated in the press box or in an unused media booth.

With a new coaching staff and a new set of systems, Duclair did not want to get left behind once he was healthy enough to start playing again.

Watching the games from up top with the scouts and other coaches was one step toward that.

According to coach Paul Maurice, Duclair seldom missed a team meeting and joined in on the video reviews of each game save for the ones he did not travel for. That was another.

Duclair said Thursday that he tried his best to stay up with the team and working on the ice with them since January has certainly helped.

“I am excited. Obviously it has been a while and I have never been out long-term like that so it has been a grind,” he said.

“I learned a lot and grew from it. I have gone through a lot of emotions this week, but I feel great, feel back to where I was and that’s 100 percent. I am very grateful and very thankful.”

And the Panthers are thankful to have him back as well.

Although they had to move some things around to fit him back under the salary cap, the Panthers are adding a big-time player to their lineup right in the thick of a playoff race.

Because of those cap concerns — Florida lost Chris Tierney off waivers to Montreal — the Panthers are not thought to be players come trade deadline time on March 3.

Having Duclair back, however, can have the same affect as landing a new player.

One who scored a career-high 30 goals last season.

“That’s our trade, right?” Maurice said. “Here comes a guy with elite speed and there is something different about goal-scorers. And he’s got it. When he crosses the line on every rush, he is focused on scoring goals. He finishes every puck to the net. He really respects what he is great it. If there is a rebound to a shot, he is the fastest one to it.”

Added Sam Reinhart: “When you add a dynamic player like that to your lineup, it is so helpful. We’re all seeing what he does in practice on the ice for us and it has been a nice little jolt to have him back. You could see the energy he provides and now we’re looking forward to seeing it in a game. It has been a long journey for him so you know that extra motivation is going to be there.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Friday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Season Series (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16)
  • Last season: Florida won 3-0
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-44-8, 4 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Feb. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.

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