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TRAINING CAMP: Duclair intent on tapping 'unlimited' potential

Young forward on his fourth NHL team, motivated to prove rookie success was no fluke.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The speed and skill are undeniable.

In fact, when Anthony Duclair deploys them both it can be jaw-dropping. The only thing is, he hasn't combined them enough during the first four years of his NHL career - after being traded by the New York Rangers in 2015 and making a splash with 20 goals and 44 points for the Arizona Coyotes as a rookie in 2015-16.

Since then, Duclair has struggled to regain his top form. He had 15 points on five goals and 10 assists the next season (2016-17), spending time in the American Hockey League, and then requested a trade from the Coyotes last season. Sent to the Chicago Blackhawks mid-season, Duclair missed the final six weeks of the season with a high-ankle sprain and wasn't tendered a qualifying contract offer to stay in Chicago this summer.

The Blue Jackets signed Duclair to a one-year contract July 6, a deal worth a reported $650,000, and he came to training camp looking to prove himself all over again - still only 23-years old.

"I want to go back to my playing ways from my rookie season," he said, three days into the physically-demanding training camp of Columbus coach John Tortorella. "That was the main focus [of signing here] too. Coming here, playing with these guys, everyone's got to push each other to be better - and I think that's what I need."

VISIT BLUE JACKETS TRAINING CAMP CENTRAL 2018

It's exactly what he'll get with the Blue Jackets. Tortorella will make sure of it, just like he told Duclair in a phone conversation prior to the young forward signing his contract with Columbus. Tortorella has done his homework, calling around to Duclair's former teammates he's coached in the past, and all had basically the same assessment.

Immensely talented player who doesn't know how to harness it consistently.

"All the people I've talked to [about him] said it could be unlimited if he just gets it straightened out," Tortorella said on media day at Nationwide Arena, a day before Duclair joined his new teammates for a grueling two-mile run that's more of a two-mile sprint. "For him, he just can't leave any stone unturned as far as his preparation [and] as far as his everyday activity."

Those privy to Duclair's offseason work in Montreal this summer can attest that he didn't. After allowing his ankle to heal, Duclair attacked his summer training - on and off the ice - with the ferocity of a guy struggling to grab hold of a life preserver.

"As soon as I found out my season came to an end [in Chicago] with 20, 25 games left in the season, it was definitely tough - especially for a guy like me, who's rarely injured," said Duclair, who eight points (two goals, six assists) in 23 games with the Blackhawks. "I don't miss too many games due to injury, but I was definitely motivated to get back out there - not only to come back from my injury but to come back stronger. That was one of my main goals when I signed here, just to come here in great shape and prove what I can do."

That's what he told Tortorella, too, during that summer chat.

"I had a conversation with him before I signed and the same thing I'm telling you right now, I told him," Duclair said. "I felt embarrassed when Chicago let me go, especially at 22-years old, being a [restricted free agent]. It's not the ideal spot you want to be in your career. So, I was very motivated this summer. I trained hard, trying to get back to my rookie season and get back to playing well and staying in the lineup."

That rookie season might seem like a long time ago to some, but not to Duclair. It remains in the back of his mind now, each time he looks for the internal drive needed to push through another leg-burning workout in camp.

Twenty goals. Twenty-four assists. Forty-four points. Eight-one games.

He was 20-years old that season. He's only three years older now but is with his fourth NHL team. That's a turnover rate he'd love to end with a return to form this season for the Blue Jackets, a competitive team built largely on youth and player development.

If they can help Duclair develop, the payoff could be immense.

"I need to watch," Tortorella said. "Why is this his fourth team? I need to ask that question. Why? Maybe I can find out by watching and maybe I can help him by watching, to maybe have him stop some habits that made this happen, as far as him bouncing around. This guy here, talking to a couple of his [former] teammates, there's so much there. I think we have to take a little responsibility to try to get it out of him, but it has to be a two-way street [and] he has to give too. So, we'll see where it goes."

Duclair's goal is to take it back to his rookie year for a "do-over" of sorts, re-launching his promising career and keeping that trajectory upward this time.

"I think about it a lot," he said. "I want to get back to that and even more. Obviously, I know what I can do and I know what I'm capable of. I've proven it in the past. It's just a question of doing it again."

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