The Rangers’ 19-year-old winger Anthony Duclair could be the next uber-talented rookie to make a big splash in the NHL.
Duclair has blazing speed, goal-scoring instincts, excellent hands, quick wrists, and a strong positional sense. His assortment of skills makes him a very difficult player to contain, as evidenced during a preseason where he led the Rangers with five points.
On Monday, head coach Alain Vigneault decided that Duclair would start the 2014-15 season with the Blueshirts. He will begin the season on the left side of the Rangers’ third line centered by fellow youngster J.T. Miller with veteran Lee Stempniak on the right wing.
“I met him this morning, and explained to him that he was going to start the season with us,” Vigneault said on Monday. “Basically, to put it this way, as long as you can prove that you can play on our top line, you’re going to stick with us. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to play every game. When he plays, he has to play on our top-nine forwards. He’s going to get an opportunity to start Thursday and prove that.”
“It’s going to be my first NHL game,” Duclair said. “I’m super-excited to play. I’m looking forward to it.”
Duclair knows that he’ll have to perform right away to remain in the NHL. After nine games, the Rangers must decide whether to keep Duclair or send him back to juniors. Duclair scored 50 goals and registered 49 assists for 99 points in 59 games for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL last season. He is ineligible to play in the AHL due to age restrictions.
“The first few games, I’m going to need to make a good impression to stick all year,” Duclair said.
In addition to his offensive skills, Duclair has impressed the Rangers with his positional sense and willingness to harass opposing puck-carriers.
“When you lose the puck, you want to get it quick as possible,” Duclair said.
“Whatever happens, highs or lows – you’ve always got to stay grounded,” Duclair said. “The real work starts now. For myself, it’s to keeping improving every day, keep learning every day and adapting to certain situations.”
“Since the start, the older guys have helped the young guys,” Duclair said.
Brassard is showing Duclair the ropes and Duclair is studying Brassard’s professional example closely.
“He’s a great guy to be around,” Duclair said. “We’ve built a friendship off the ice together. He came into the league at a young age as well. He knows what it takes to stick in this league. He can really help me out.”
When Vigneault informed Duclair of the news, he called his parents shortly after to tell them the good news. It brought an emotional response from his mother.
“It was unbelievable,” Duclair said. “Mom was a little more emotional, she started crying. Dad was super-excited, really happy for me.”
Father Wendell is a long-time Rangers fan despite being raised in Montreal where the Canadiens are followed with a religious fervor.
“He always liked the ‘Original Six’ teams,” Duclair said. “He was football player growing up. Since he was young, he always loved the Rangers.”
Duclair also thanked Rangers fans for their support before the Blueshirts departed for St. Louis. He’ll have an opportunity to entertain the home fans under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in Sunday’s home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I know the fans here have been unbelievable,” Duclair said. “I can’t thank them enough.”