Ex-Blackhawk Anthony Duclair thriving with longer leash, more ice time with Senators

Duclair’s breakout this season has put the spotlight on the Hawks’ decision to let him walk as a free agent in 2018, but the situations are not really comparable or transferrable.

SHARE Ex-Blackhawk Anthony Duclair thriving with longer leash, more ice time with Senators
Anthony Duclair, after years of bouncing around the league, has become the star in Ottawa he was long expected to be.

Anthony Duclair, after years of bouncing around the league, has become the star in Ottawa he was long expected to be.

Nick Wass/AP

ST. LOUIS — The basement-dwelling Senators somehow have two representatives at this year’s All-Star Game, and between the two, Anthony Duclair attracted a fraction of the attention Thursday that Brady Tkachuk did.

Duclair, the former failed Blackhawks experiment, earned the invitation nonetheless, tallying 33 points through the Senators’ first 47 games this season.

That equals his production in 74 games with the Senators and Blue Jackets last season, and tops his point totals from 2017-18 (23 points in 56 games with the Hawks and Coyotes) and 2016-17 (15 points in 58 games with the Coyotes).

“It’s the most ice time I’ve gotten in my career, even more than my rookie year [when I] scored 20 goals, so that helps a lot,” Duclair said. “When you get the trust from your teammates and your coaches, it makes a world of difference.”

Once touted as a top prospect in the Rangers’ system, Duclair has clearly bounced around the NHL quite a bit in recent seasons, and the Hawks aren’t the only team to give up on him.

Besides, his eight points in 23 games with the Hawks two years ago, despite the solid 53.5 percent scoring-chance ratio that accompanied them, understandably didn’t wow anyone.

He was given an opportunity alongside Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat for a while after his arrival, but finished the year demoted to lines with Artem Anisimov and Tomas Jurco, then David Kampf and about-to-retire Patrick Sharp.

On the rebuilding Senators, though, Duclair has spent his most time with Tkachuk — the fourth overall pick in 2018 — and seen his per-game average rise from 13:02 (with the Hawks) to 16:30.

“Just being on a rebuilding team helps a lot,” he said. “On the other teams, like last year [in] Columbus or in Chicago, there’s obviously going to be guys that have been there a while and they’re going to be ahead of you. You’ve just got to work through that.

“Having this opportunity where now you’re the guy being relied on to have more of an offensive role, it fits my game perfectly and it’s really helped.”

The most common knock on Duclair over the years has been his consistency, with his offensive production declared not robust enough to make up for his poor defensive abilities. But he feels even his defense is improving now, partly because the Senators have used him occasionally on the penalty kill.

Duclair’s breakout and All-Star appearance this season has made the Hawks’ trade to acquire the speedy winger look better — especially since Richard Panik was unremarkable last season with the Coyotes and has struggled this season with the Capitals — but their decision to let Duclair walk as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018 look worse.

The front office can probably look back on the latter move with some regret. But as Duclair repeatedly emphasized Thursday, his productivity is largely based on a role within the Senators organization that wouldn’t have been possible with the Hawks.

“[It’s] having the playing time, having the trust and having more of a leash, so to speak — where if you make a mistake, you know you’re going to get back out there instead of sitting a period,” he said.

Note: Hawks All-Star representative Patrick Kane is one of 10 players who will compete in a brand-new event, shooting at targets from a 30-foot elevated platform, during Friday’s All-Star Skills competition.

“It’s going to be pretty interesting to see what happens,” Kane said Thursday. “Not really sure what to expect.”

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