With the New York Rangers and Anthony Duclair head to Pittsburgh for their Saturday night rematch, everyone is wondering if Coach Alain Vigneault to make it a hat trick of scratches for The Duke. A Rangers win over the Colorado avalanche would have probably sealed The Duke’s fate; however, a shootout loss and a less-than-impressive showing from Jesper Fast might get the 19-year-old back into the lineup.
Fast is a nice player, but he is your Garden variety fourth line checking winger while Duclair has all the tools and talent to be a top six forward – or better.
The Rangers can’t afford to let Duclair sit out too many games in a row. They can get away with giving him fourth line minutes because they have been giving him ice time on the power play. The problem is if the Rangers send him back to his Junior team he will not be eligible to return until after the Quebec Remparts season is over. Since Quebec is hoisting the 2015 Memorial Cup, that means Duclair might not be eligible to return until June because the Memorial Cup runs through May 31.
Since he has Junior eligibility, Duclair can’t be sent to the AHL unless he suffered an injury and was being assigned for a two-week conditioning stint. The NHL is a tough not to crack in terms of sending Junior-eligible players to the minors for a conditioning stint.
The Buffalo Sabres tried to do that last year with Mikhail Grigorenko and were rebuffed as the NHL invoked Article 13.8 of the CBA which says the NHL “may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is loaned on a Conditioning Loan.”
The one thing the Rangers can do is loan Duclair to the Canadian National Junior team making him eligible for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship which is being held in Toronto and Montreal. During the Summer of 2014, Duclair was one of 41 Canadians invited to the Canadian Junior team’s development camp.
The Championship runs from December 26, 2014 through January 5, 2015. Canada does not have to submit their roster until Christmas Day and they are expected to use every minute after 2015 NHL Draft phenom Connor McDavid broke a bone in his hand during a fight and is expected to miss five-to-six weeks.
The Canadians will be gathering for a brief training camp on December 11 with two exhibition games on the 13th and 14th. If Duclair is invited to the training camp and makes the team, his last game with the Rangers would be December 8 against the Penguins.
If you pencil in Canada for the Finals, the Rangers would be on the West Coast for a three-game/four-day trip against the California teams. Rather than making Duclair fly across country, he could wait for the Blueshirts to return to the Garden for a January 13 game against the Islanders. All totaled, Duclair could miss 13 Rangers games.
As you can see, it is a bit of a Catch-22 situation. You don’t want to lose his availability for that length of time in case of injuries to your other forwards, but he would get to experience a highly competitive level of hockey against players of his own age with the added pressure of playing the games in his home country.
One of the reasons the Rangers were leaning towards returning him to the Remparts was to experience the pomp and circumstance and pressure of the Memorial Cup.
By keeping him in New York and making him available for the World Junior Championship, Duclair get to experience the best of both worlds. He gets the experience of playing in the NHL and he gets the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage. Best of all, he would remain NHL playoff eligible from Day One of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The one question left unanswered is can Duclair withstand the rigors of the NHL at his size (5-11/180). The one plus to his staying with the Rangers is that the team should be working with The Duke on his strength and conditioning.
It is not my intention to run down the Remparts training staff, but it is logical to presume that an NHL team’s training staff is better equipped to monitor and improve a player’s strength and conditioning than a QMJHL team.
In addition to strength and conditioning, there are still aspects to Duclair’s game that need to be developed.
“In my mind, there is a skill set there in a young player that I haven’t seen in a long time,” AV said to Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post. “Sometimes, for a guy like that, playing every night is not the right thing to do.”
“It gives him an opportunity to practice, work with the coaches,” Vigneault said. “It’s a long season. He might not play [Thursday], just day-to-day. But he’s still part of this team right now.”
The key is for the Rangers to place Duclair in the best positions to succeed. If that means remaining with the Rangers, then AV and his coaching staff have to be in constant contact with Duclair and keeping in the loop in terms of what the coaching staff wants from the youngster. It does not hurt to have a veteran like Martin St. Louis to lean on in terms of keeping an eye on the youngster.
In a perfect world, the Rangers would be able to assign Duclair to the AHL where he could play top line minutes and be available to return to the NHL when needed.
Larry Brooks nailed the crux of the NHL-CHL problem when he called the current system an “anachronism”. There is no such agreement in place between the NHL and colleges, high schools and European teams – only the CHL. The same CHL which Brooks says receives anywhere from $10.2 million to $12.6 million (figures are in Canadian dollars) annually.
No one wants the NHL to start pumping Canadian Juniors dry, but perhaps it is time for the NHL and Canadian Hockey League to get together and find some type of compromise that meets the needs of the CHL and meets the needs of the players.