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Duclair agrees to one-year contract with Panthers

Free agent forward scored NHL career-high 23 goals last season @NHLdotcom

Anthony Duclair agreed to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The 24-year-old forward was an unrestricted free agent. He scored an NHL career-high 23 goals and 40 points in 66 games with the Ottawa Senators last season and played in his first NHL All-Star Game.

"It was obviously a decision I took my time doing and just wanted to make sure I'm going to a situation where I can have the opportunity to showcase what I can do, and I just felt like Florida was the right fit for me," Duclair said Saturday. "Just looking at the lineup, it's obviously a very talented lineup. A lot of depth in the forward group and in the defensive corps. An A-class goalie in [Sergei Bobrovsky] and a lot of great young prospects coming up."

Duclair said he was excited to join forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

"I had lots of time to dissect all the lineups in the League just to see where I could fit," he said. "Being around talent like that every day at practice and seeming them work is definitely going to be beneficial for me. Whoever coach [Joel Quenneville] puts me out there with, I'll try to do my best to make it work.

"Just seeing all the skill level and the talent that's coming up in this forward group was obviously very attractive and was one of the big reasons why I decided to come sign in Florida."

Duclair is familiar with several players on the Panthers. He was teammates with forward Alex Wennberg and Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2018-19, and with forward Vinnie Hinostroza with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18.

"It's awesome to go to a team where I know a couple of guys from previous teams I've played on," Duclair said. "I'm really excited to just be around the type of talent that the Panthers have."

Duclair said his relationship with Panthers general manager Bill Zito was a factor. Zito, who was named GM on Sept. 2, was in the Blue Jackets front office for 10 seasons.  

"[Bill] was probably the first GM I actually talked to, and soon as the first day of free agency hit (in October), we contacted each other," Duclair said. "We had a really good talk. I felt really good about Bill's vision, mindset and how he wants to build this team."

Zito said, "Anthony is a dynamic and highly skilled player who is capable of being a dependable offensive contributor for our team. He possesses tremendous speed and goal-scoring ability and earned an opportunity to be named an NHL all-star last season. We're excited to welcome Anthony and look forward to what he can add to our team."

Duclair, who represented himself in negotiations, said he didn't think he would be an unrestricted free agent but became one when the Senators didn't give him a qualifying offer after the season. The Panthers will be his sixth team in seven NHL seasons.

"I was surprised I didn't get qualified by Ottawa. Didn't see that coming," he said. "… They felt like it was best for them to move on and for myself, I represented myself in the open market and I think it was a great experience. … I've been moved around a bunch, I think it was important for me to contact GMs and let them know where I am at this state in my career right now and tell them my story."

Selected by the New York Rangers in the third round (No. 80) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Duclair has scored 162 points (79 goals, 83 assists) in 353 regular-season games with the Senators, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes and Rangers.

"I felt like last year I took a huge step in my development," he said. "I think I'm a growing player, I've still got lots to learn and just ready for the new challenges that's going to be coming my way."

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