It started with a phone call Wednesday that led to another one Thursday, and then, ultimately, Anthony Duclair finding his next NHL stop.
Duclair, a 22-year old free-agent forward who's played for the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers, agreed to terms Thursday on a one-year, one-way NHL contract to play for the Blue Jackets in 2018-19.
He's young, fast, has scored 20 goals in an NHL season already and comes to Columbus as a low-risk player looking for a chance to re-ignite his career.
"I did my homework, talked to a couple guys and heard nothing but good things [about Columbus]," Duclair told BlueJackets.com on Thursday, not long after talking with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and head coach John Tortorella. "I was pretty excited for the opportunity and for them to just give me a shot. I'm grateful and I'm just really excited to get things going."
Duclair, who will make $650,000, is looking forward to bouncing back from his past two seasons. After scoring 20 goals for Arizona in 2014-15, his first full NHL season, things have gone the other direction.
In his second season with the Coyotes (2015-16), he finished with just 15 points in 58 games (five goals) and also spent a 16-game stint in the American Hockey League with the Tucson Roadrunners. Last season, his third with Arizona, Duclair had 23 points on 11 goals and 12 assists in 56 games, split between the Coyotes and Blackhawks - who acquired him in a trade Jan. 10 that included defenseman Adam Clendening, one of three depth defensemen the Blue Jackets signed Sunday.
"After my first year, my career sort of went sideways and downhill," Duclair said. "This is not how I wanted it to go, but at the same time, I know what I have to do now to stick with a team. I had a good chat [Thursday] with 'Torts' and Jarmo, and I think this is the best fit for me going forward in my career. I've heard good things and I think this is the right system, where I can shine as a player."
Duclair was selected by the Rangers in the third round (No. 80) of the 2013 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut for New York less than a year later, at age 19, on Oct. 9, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St Louis. Duclair had seven points (one goal, six assists) in 19 games that season, but was sent to the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) I November.
He was then dealt to the Coyotes on Mar. 1, 2015 at the NHL Trade Deadline, headlining a package that included veteran defenseman Keith Yandle going to the Rangers.
The following year, Duclair played 81 games in Arizona and made the Coyotes look good by scoring 20 goals. It didn't take long for the bottom to fall out, on the Coyotes and Duclair, struggled mightily in 2016-17.
He entered last season looking to rebound, and did, but then fell off again mid-season.
Duclair had 15 points in his first 33 games for Arizona last year, on nine goals and six assists, but he was traded to the Blackhawks and regressed - contributing just eight points (two goals, six assists) after the trade.
He also played just 23 games for Chicago because of a high-ankle sprain that ended his season Mar. 10 in Boston, after his right leg buckled during an open-ice collision that sent Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand to the penalty box for interference.
Duclair said his right knee hurt initially, but the bigger issue turned out to be a painful, nagging high-ankle sprain.
"I had an opportunity there to be a good player," Duclair said. "I got there and the team wasn't doing so well. Personally, I didn't play my best since about mid-season, and I talked about that with 'Torts' [Thursday]. Then I got hurt. I got that high-ankle sprain. I did my best to make sure that I was 100 percent before training camp [in the Fall], and I will be 100 percent, but that injury definitely didn't help."
As long as it's healed by September, Duclair will enter camp with a chance to earn a regular role up front in Columbus. He'll have to beat out a handful of other forward hopefuls, which include some talented rookie prospects, but he's looking forward to the opportunity ahead.
"They've seen me play already," Duclair said. "I've played against [the Blue Jackets] over the years and they have a lot of interest in me, and everybody was on board to acquire me, so that was a real positive for me. At the same time, the way they play - with speed and skill - it fits right into my game. I think I can learn the system pretty quickly and produce how I can offensively."