CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Anthony Duclair is no stranger to bouncing around the Florida Panthers lineup.
Since his arrival in South Florida prior to last season, Duclair has seen time on all four of Florida’s forward lines at one point or another.
He spent the majority of last season skating on the top unit with Sasha Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe but finished the season mostly being utilized on the fourth line.
Duclair has made it crystal clear that doesn’t care where he lines up, so it didn’t bother him one bit when he began this season back on the fourth line.
“To be honest, wherever I play on any given night, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to go out there and do the best I can to help the team win,” Duclair said following Monday’s practice at the Panthers Ice Den. " Whether it’s with Jumbo and Lombo or back with Barky and Haggs, for me, my game doesn’t change.”
Indeed, Duclair’s high-energy, full speed mentality has remained the same regardless of who he’s been on the ice with.
While the sample size is small, through the first two games of this season Duclair has looked like he was shot out of a cannon.
He is the only Panthers player who has scored in both games and his possession numbers are through the roof.
The strong start comes after a training camp in which Duclair didn’t really stand out, good, bad, or otherwise. It goes to show how quickly Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville recognized the jump in Duclair’s game, and how swiftly it was rewarded.
“I think Duke in camp was ordinary, but as soon as he started playing in real games, all of a sudden you notice his speed and how dangerous he can be,” Panthers Head Coach Joel Quenneville said Monday. “I still think the strength of our lineup is that you can put guys with different guys in the course of a game, and all of a sudden someone elevates, and they take advantage of it.”
Florida’s depth is something that has been discussed ad nauseam since training camp opened last month, but to see it in all its beautiful glory, with every line offering strong shifts on both ends of the ice, has been a wonderful thing to see come to fruition.
The consistency of that deep lineup will be tested to its fullest extent this week though, with the Panthers playing powerhouse teams Tampa Bay and Colorado in the coming days.
When Florida lines up for their first official rematch with the Lightning Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, Duclair is expected to be back on the top line.
Quenneville is known to move players around the lineup on a whim, and more times than not those savvy moves have paid off.
“It’s a fair way to play the game,” Duclair said of Quenneville’s shakeups. “You see some guys are feeling it some nights and some guys are not, and it’s up to the next guy to step up and fill in that gap.”
Coach Q’s fluidity with the roster means that Duclair, and any other forward, could end up skating with different linemates on any given shift.
There is nothing wrong with going with the hot hand, but as quickly as someone can get promoted to the top line, they can just as easily find themselves right back where they started when the next game arrives.
“Everybody wants to play with Barky and wants more quality and quantity, but it’s a situation where you’re going to get that over the course of a season,” Quenneville said. “I think the depth that we have gives us that opportunity to get different looks, and competition can be healthy. Nothing is permanent.”
That kind of unpredictability might bother some players, but not Duclair.
The 26-year-old Pointe-Claire, Quebec native relishes the opportunity to excel and elevate whoever he’s asked to line up with. It’s an attitude that has helped different elements of his game grow since signing with Florida.
“Every time I switch lines, I’m always talking to my linemates and making sure that we’re all on the same page,” Duclair said. “I know that I’m going to be moving around, which is fine with me. I just want to be able to build as much chemistry as fast as possible when I am with new linemates.”
It might be a little easier to achieve that when considering how much talent the Panthers have across all four forward lines.
With guys like Patric Hornqvist and Frank Vatrano and Joe Thornton and, as of Monday at least, Sam Reinhart populating your bottom six, it isn’t hard to imagine the headaches that can create for opposing coaches when trying to create favorable matchups.
It’s why Florida is on a short list of teams considered contenders for the Stanley Cup this season.
“I think all four of our lines, anywhere you play on this team, you’re surrounded by talent,” Duclair said. “There’s always plays to be made, it doesn’t matter what line you’re playing on.”
Speaking of rewarding players for strong performances, Quenneville has been giving Duclair a look on the penalty kill during recent practices, a wrinkle that we may see in a game sooner rather than later.
Playing on special teams is something most players strive for, as any additional ice time and opportunity to contribute is what it’s all about.
“When you get the trust from your coaching staff, it definitely builds confidence,” Duclair said.
Looking back, most of his penalty killing experience came while playing junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, but Duclair said Monday that he’s more than happy to take this new opportunity from Coach Q and try to run with it.
“I want to use my speed and my instincts, because you never know (what may happen),” he said. “You look at a guy like Barky; he gets some looks offensively on the PK, and that’s what I’m trying to do, be a threat against other teams’ power plays.”