Connor Murphy and Anthony Duclair were close friends during their time together in Arizona, so once Duclair’s flight from Mexico landed on Wednesday night — “My phone just blew up,” Duclair said — and he had made the requisite phone calls to Stan Bowman and his agent, he gave Murphy a ring.
“Not to bring too many swim trunks, and just to bring more of your coats,” Murphy said with a laugh. “That’s pretty much the only good advice I can give him.”
That’s the thing about getting traded midseason. There’s no training camp to learn the intricate details of a team’s system, no preseason games to build chemistry with your linemates, no time to learn all the nooks and crannies and training rooms of a new building. Duclair was thrown right into the fire Friday night, on the third line with David Kampf and Alex DeBrincat, with only a 25-minute morning skate under his belt.
That’s fine with coach Joel Quenneville, who always cautions against overloading a new player with too much information too quickly. His advice is always the same: Trust your instincts.
“That’s what Joel told me as soon as I got in — play my game, play to my strengths, and I’ll figure out the rest along the way,” Duclair said. “They told me the basics, but it’s going to take a little time.”
Duclair has much to prove. His talent always has been undeniable — a third-round pick of the Rangers in 2013, he posted 20 goals and 24 assists in his first full NHL season, with the Coyotes. But he has struggled to live up to that potential in the two seasons since, with just 14 goals in 91 games. He was a healthy scratch 10 times in 43 games this season, on the worst team in the league.
It got so bad that Duclair requested a trade. A few days later, he was in Chicago, with another struggling forward who was all promise with little to show for it, Richard Panik, heading to Arizona.
“Just felt like I needed a change of scenery,” Duclair said, calling it a “combination” of things. “I was a healthy scratch at times. I didn’t have the leash that others had. Not going to say it was unfair to me, but at the same time, just talking to older guys on the team, they felt like I deserved a little better, and I thought so, too. It wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It obviously dragged on for a while. But I’m just happy to be here.”
A little “star-struck,” too, he admitted. Especially when he saw that his locker was right next to Jonathan Toews’ stall.
Duclair’s speed is his biggest asset, and that third line is drastically different with the 22-year-old Duclair on the left wing instead of the 36-year-old Patrick Sharp, who moves down to the fourth line. Quenneville said Duclair will get every opportunity to work his way up the lineup, too, and he seems a natural fit with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane should Ryan Hartman stumble in any way.
Duclair, like so many other young and talented players, just needs to put it all together.
“He’s got all the skill and speed in the world,” Murphy said. “So it’s exciting to see what he can bring here, and I know he’s really excited.”
Duclair thinks the Hawks’ creative offensive style will bring out the best in his game, saying he was “stoked to be here.” He can only hope it ends better than it did for him in Arizona — or for the guy for whom he was traded.
“I think it’s going to be huge for me,” Duclair said. “Especially just the way they play, and watching them play over the years — they play with a lot of speed and skill, and I think that fits into my strengths.”
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