The New York Rangers did not have a first round pick going into the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but it appears that they still managed to draft a first-round talent. With the 80th overall selection in the draft, the Rangers selected forward Anthony Duclair from the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Widely regarded as a top talent, Duclair’s draft stock fell due to an injury-riddled season that saw him play less games and score less as well. Yet in 2013-14, Duclair has been on a completely different level. He is in the race for the Quebec scoring title and has played predominantly without the help of other elite players.
Duclair’s production this season is borderline unbelievable. He has 49 goals and 92 points in 53 games on the campaign, leading the league in goals and only five points behind leading scorer Anthony Mantha, a Detroit Red Wings prospect. He has 31 more points than the next highest scoring teammate, Adam Erne, and his linemates Fabrice Herzog and Kurt Etchegary don’t come close to his total even when you combine their point totals. He has put weight on his frame, so worries that he is undersized can also be put to rest. The Quebec League website lists him at 5-foot-11 and 184-pounds which is significantly more than he weighed in at the Entry Draft. So what does the future hold for Duclair?
Duclair is in a situation not dissimilar to former Rangers prospect Christian Thomas, who is now with the Montreal Canadiens organization. Duclair is dominating at the Junior level, yet he turns only 19-years-old in August. Players drafted from the Canadian junior leagues are not eligible to play in the AHL until they are 20-years-old, so this limits Duclair’s options for next season. He has nothing left to prove at the Junior level, yet that is where he must play if he does not make the Rangers out of training camp. Thomas had a very similar situation where he posted 99 points in 66 games, but was not eligible to play in the AHL and was forced to play Juniors again where he regressed.
This leaves two realistic scenarios for Duclair’s short-term future. He could either make the NHL next season and learn to play the pro game in sheltered minutes with more experienced linemates or he can return to Juniors and dominate again. Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and if the team chooses to let him go Duclair may be a strong fit alongside center Derick Brassard and winger Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers do have several skilled players for Duclair to learn from, and this may not be a bad choice when New York could always use an extra scoring winger. If Duclair is sent back to Juniors, a move to either the WHL or the OHL may be the best course of action to help him develop. Both are widely regarded as more difficult Junior leagues than the QMJHL which would provide more competition for Duclair until he is eligible to play in the AHL.
The Rangers do not have much to show from the past few years of drafting, yet Duclair looks to be a diamond in the rough. The Rangers have not had such a game-breaking talent in the system for a long time. Along with players such as Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, Duclair is a big part of the future for the team.