Quebec Remparts forward and New York Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair missed the last seven games of the regular season and has not played in the first four Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff games due to a concussion sustained Feb. 28.
While sitting in the stands at the most exciting time of the year is obviously frustrating, Duclair has had a season to remember and likely made the Rangers very happy they took the skilled left wing in the third round (No. 80) of the 2013 NHL Draft. After Duclair scored 20 goals and added 30 assists in the 2012-13 season despite missing five-plus weeks with a sprained ankle, he more than doubled his goal total this season with 50 in 59 games; he fell one point shy of 100 points.
"Missing the last seven games of the season because I was there at 99 points and one point shy of 100, so that was pretty frustrating," Duclair said. "Then just watching the boys battle it out from the stands, you want to be down there and now the playoffs being the most exciting time of the year, it's definitely tough to watch from the outside."
Duclair, however, has clearly shown his teammates and the Rangers organization he is committed to improving and reaching his goal of playing in the NHL. Even after a successful draft season, the native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, who played on the AAA midget Lac St-Louis Lions with Halifax Mooseheads star and Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick Jonathan Drouin, has shown a consistent desire to improve his game and never become complacent.
Ironically, over the past two offseasons -- in which he spent time improving his agility and physical stamina with his uncle and former Canadian Football League player Farell Duclair - Duclair's main objective was to become a better defensive and two-way player. Apparently, that helped his offensive game as well.
"Just like any other season, I didn't really change anything as far as my approach," he said when asked how he was able to go from 20 to 50 goals. "I just wanted to go out and be the hardest-working player in practice and in games on a consistent basis. So just that and then the amount of talent we have on our team and how we gel together out there has helped not just me, but the team.
"I think at 16 or 17 years old, you have so much to learn in the game and you just want to play an offensive role. But I think over the last two years, I've improved my defensive game and that's helped me be a better all-around player. I also feel I've become just more mature. I'm working harder off the ice to improve my physical game and put on some weight, and that's helped me a lot."
Duclair also made a point of crediting the two coaches he has had in his three seasons playing for Quebec: Patrick Roy, who coached him for the first two seasons before leaving for the Colorado Avalanche, and current Quebec coach Phillipe Boucher.
"I was really lucky to be coached by Patrick for two years," Duclair said of Roy. "Anyone that's been coached by him will tell you that he's a really passionate coach and he's a fair guy as well that always loves to win."
That's why Duclair is not the least bit surprised that Roy has made such an immediate impact at the NHL level and is a favorite for the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach.
"Not at all," Duclair said. "I've known him for two years, and he knows what's expected of him and he doesn't like to lose. He's got great tactics and he's proven both at this level and now in the NHL he's a great coach."
As for Boucher, Duclair believes his communication skills and willingness to listen to the players has made it an easy transition for him and his teammates.
"He's been great," Duclair said of Boucher. "Phillipe is a great person and coach as well that's come in and filled the role really well. He's a great person off the ice that really connects with the players. So that has made the player-coach relationship easy to handle and it's been a smooth transition this year."
Duclair is hoping to find his way into a playoff game if the Remparts can make it to the next round, but he is also looking ahead to the offseason, when he will try to impress his future employers and hopefully secure a spot at the professional level. After attending Rangers development and minicamps, as well as playing for New York in the 2013 Traverse City prospects tournament last summer, Duclair feels he knows what needs to be done to prepare for the NHL.
"The speed for sure," Duclair said. "Guys in the NHL are obviously much more mature and the game is just so much faster. So the speed was something to adjust to. Also, just how much of a competitive business it is. You can't take a day off in the NHL. When you're at those camps, it's very competitive and you can be friends off the ice, but on the ice it's all business."
Duclair also knows that while scoring 50 goals at any level is a tremendous accomplishment, it doesn't mean he will be able to reach such lofty numbers in the NHL, nor does it secure him a future spot on an NHL roster.
"Fifty goals in junior hockey is nothing compared to what you need to do in the NHL," Duclair said. "A lot of great players scored 50 goals in juniors, but never crack the lineup in the NHL. So I know when I get to the pro camp I'll be just another name on the list, and it will be my turn to open up some eyes and try and make the team."
But with the NHL seemingly getting younger every season and so many inexperienced players able to make the jump at an early age, the 18-year-old is hopeful he can play at the sport's highest level soon if he maintains his solid work ethic.
"I look at a guy like [Colorado rookie] Nathan McKinnon, who played in my league last year and I see how well he's doing in the NHL, and [Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita] Kucherov, who I played with last year actually and he was just 19, so looking at those guys and how well they've done gives me a sense of hope," Duclair said. "If I do what they did at this level and now at the pros, I don't see why I shouldn't make it either."