SUNRISE, Fla. – It’s been quite a year for Anthony Duclair.
He can kick up his feet tonight and bask in his newly signed three-year deal with one of the National Hockey League’s most exciting up-and-coming teams, but it was just nine months ago that Duclair’s future was far less secure.
The speedy winger wasn’t the only one caught by surprise last October when the Ottawa Senators chose not to tender an offer to the then-restricted free agent.
Duclair only spent 87 games with the Senators over parts of two seasons, but he was one of the team’s more consistent sources of offense, accumulating 31 goals and 54 points during his time in the Canadian capital city.
For whatever reason, the fit wasn’t there, and Ottawa wanted to move on.
Just six years into the former third round pick’s career (80th overall in 2013), Duclair had already played for five different teams. Something had to change.
That led to Duclair making the decision to represent himself in his newfound free agency, a move that turned out to be a pretty wise one.
Taking his time and speaking with several general managers around the league helped put things into perspective for Duclair. Ultimately, he decided to sign a one-year ‘prove it’ deal worth $1.7 million with the Florida Panthers and their new GM Bill Zito, someone who Duclair had a good rapport with from when both were in Columbus.
Playing for Florida meant Duclair, an offense-first guy that wasn’t known for his two-way game, would have to adapt his style of play to Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville’s defensive, puck possession systems.
Duclair knew exactly what he was getting himself into, and his intuition about signing with Florida turned out to be one of the best decisions he’s made during his career.
He enjoyed a solid season playing under Quenneville, admittedly working hard on elements of his three-zone game while continuing to lean on his speed and abilities as a scorer.
The result was a career-high +27 on-ice rating, and Duclair’s 32 points in 43 games meant that for the second straight year he’d set a career mark in points-per-game percentage, finding the scoresheet in 74.4% of his games with Florida (that number was 60.6% in 2019-20 with Ottawa, which at the time was a career-high).
Once again representing himself heading into an offseason without a contract, the restricted free agent wouldn’t be caught by surprise a second time.
Duclair negotiated a new three-year deal with Florida, worth a total of $9 million, according to CapFriendly.
“Very excited, very happy to be back,” Duclair said. “To be back for another three years is awesome news. I’m definitely not going to take it for granted.”
There are a plethora of reasons why the 25-year-old had a big smile on his face while meeting with the media on a Zoom call Friday, the day after he signed his new deal. Here are a few:
First and foremost, there’s the stability and security of signing a three-year deal after playing on four straight one-year contracts.
He also negotiated a nice raise for himself, almost doubling his average annual salary from last season.
Then there’s the Panthers, a team that currently features perhaps the most talented and complete roster in the franchise’s existence.
Florida’s extremely talented core group of players is expected remain intact for the foreseeable future, and there is no reason to think the team won’t continue to improve as guys like Duclair, Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and others move into the prime years of their respective careers, while young talents such as Spencer Knight, Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko and Anton Lundell begin to blossom into everyday NHL players.
It also helps that the Panthers locker room is “a really tight-knit group,” as Duclair put it.
“Just great guys all around. Off the ice, it’s easy to hang out with them. Anybody new that comes to our locker room is going to feel welcome from day one, just like I felt.”
It also must be mentioned that since arriving in Sunrise late last year, Duclair has absolutely loved living in his tropical new home, often posting photos and videos on Instagram of himself having a blast on the beach.
Now the native Quebecer can dig his roots a little deeper in the South Florida sand…er, soil.
“You can’t beat Florida, that’s for sure. There are so many things to do off the ice. The lifestyle is unbelievable,” Duclair said. “It’s not close to home, but it’s on the east coast and my parents are more than happy to come watch a few games down here.”
MORE FROM DUCLAIR’S ZOOM MEDIA CONFERENCE
Already ready for training camp: “For myself and my teammates, we’re already excited to get back. We’re a tight group here and we all stayed in touch. We have good camaraderie, good chemistry, and I’m just excited to get going again in September.”
More on his Florida teammates: “We had lots of fun off the ice and I think it transitioned pretty well on the ice. We saw that early in the season.”
On the Panthers confidence after a successful campaign last season: “The consistency we showed definitely proved that it wasn’t just a little streak we had going (at the start), but we were actually a legit team and a legit contender.”
On already being involved with the South Florida community: “Any time I go to a new team, I do my best to take part in the community. Obviously, the fans and the people are what makes this sport so special, so anytime I have the chance to give back, I go right ahead and do that. Being here for next three years, I’m definitely going to take a leap and dig deeper in that role.”
Collaborating with Panthers Assistant General Manager Brett Peterson: “We’re going to meet up at some point this summer and go over a few things. I’m definitely going to be around (South Florida) and I just love being with kids and working with them, whether it’s on the ice or meeting them after a game. I’m definitely going to be taking that leadership role off the ice for sure.”