The Arizona Coyotes are currently trying to unload 22-year-old forward Anthony Duclair, according to Elliotte Friedman in his lastest 31 Thoughts column. Duclair is on a $1.2 million contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Lightning have an opening at right wing in their top nine. Cory Conacher is currently playing on the third line and Tyler Johnson is playing out of position on the right side on the second line.
Typically, the players available to cup contenders as rentals are veterans on expiring contracts looking for another playoff run. The prices are often steep and the impact rarely reflects the price paid, especially if the trade happens at the deadline leaving little time for the player to acclimate to their new team. Martin Hanzal was a great example last year and even Brian Boyle was an overpay by the Leafs considering their situation.
Duclair represents a much different scenario. He’s still young and in a flexible contract situation. If a trade happens now, he would have four full months to settle in before the playoffs. After the season, the team acquiring him will be able to decide whether to retain him or not. And unless he has an explosive second half of the season with his new team, he’ll likely be affordable.
Duclair is a talented player stuck in one of the worst situations in the league with the Coyotes. The Yotes are trying. They made moves this summer that seemed smart at the time. They looked to be assembling a team that could be respectable this year. But that hasn’t been the case. They continue to be one of the worst teams in the league and assessing players in that scenario is difficult. But if a player with the upside of Duclair is available, teams have to at least try to suss out his impact amidst the overwhelming din of failure.
To start (stop me if you’ve heard this before), we’ll look at Duclair’s player card from Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com. This card covers the previous three seasons.
Duclair has positive shot and goal impacts in his 150+ games prior to this year. His goal impacts are a bit inflated by a high on-ice shooting percentage. He draws penalties at a high rate but takes too many as well. He has been used more in situations when the team needs a goal than when protecting a lead. That suggests the coaches don’t fully trust him defensively, which is supported by Rick Tocchet’s quotes this season.
But let’s dig a little deeper. The following graphs show how Duclair performed in both zone exits and zone entries last season. Keep in mind that this performance was on one of the worst teams in the league so being above average in anything is impressive. The data in these charts is manually tracked by Corey Sznajder.
Duclair grades slightly above average in zone exits, which is a bit surprising given his reputation as an an unreliable defensive player. Zone exits are only a small part of the picture of a player’s defensive performance but this suggests that when he does get the puck in the defensive zone, he’s capable of starting the transition game.
Where Duclair really shines for the first time in this analysis is in zone entries. He enters the zone with possession at a high rate. Those entries don’t result in shots as often as we might like. That could be because he’s not making smart plays once he gains the zone or it could be because he’s playing on a bad team and doesn’t have much support when he gains the zone.
Finally, here are his shot and estimated passing numbers for the last two seasons. Last year, Duclair looked like Arizona’s third best offensive forward. He preferred to pass and was above average in that area. This season, he’s in a similar spot on the team. He’s shooting a bit more but his estimated shot assists have dropped.
Putting all of this information together, we can start to surmise the type of player Duclair is. He’s primarily an offensive contributor. He excels in zone entries due to his speed and would prefer to pass once he gains the zone. Anecdotally based on his current coach’s statements, his effort level is inconsistent and he needs to improve defensively.
Perfect players are rarely available and Duclair isn’t that. But he does have clear strength areas. The Lightning’s middle six is full of solid two-way players. Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde are all good defensively. That means Duclair could likely slot in on the right side in the middle six and be guaranteed two linemates who would be ideal skill fits for him.
Bigger picture, I’m not convinced Duclair is a finished product. He’s been in a worst-case scenario for his entire NHL development. Stick a player with that skill set into the Lightning organization and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to look like the player many thought he could be after his breakout year in 2015-2016.
If the Lightning were to bring in Duclair, the biggest risk is likely to be the roster shuffling that would need to happen. If they don’t trade an NHL player as part of the deal, they’ll probably lose Cory Conacher to waivers. That would be unfortunate because Conacher has been good in Tampa this year.
The most sensible players to go back to Arizona as part of a deal would be J.T. Brown or Slater Koekkoek. Moving either of those two would infuriate sections of the fan base. Brown is deservedly a fan favorite for his selfless play on the ice and his role as a leader in the community. Koekkoek feels like an overpay with too much potential to trade at this point in his career...although Arizona fans might say the same of Duclair.
The dream scenario for the Lightning would be to package Andrej Sustr with a pick of some kind. If the Yotes are desperate to unload Duclair, maybe they would consider that but John Chayka will understand the pressure on the Lightning to move a roster player and would likely not settle for Sustr. Chayka has traded with Steve Yzerman before though so the two could potentially work out a deal. The Lightning sent Anthony DeAngelo to Arizona during the 2016 draft and the two swapped AHL goalies earlier this year.
With a pipeline full of forward talent and a logjam of NHL players, acquiring Duclair wouldn’t be as easy for the Lightning as it would be for teams with weaker rosters. But when a 22-year-old with obvious talent and several measurable plus skills is available, teams need to be creative in trying to find a fit for that player. And given how well Duclair aligns with the team’s needs, the Lightning should be especially interested.