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2018 Free Agency Target: Would Anthony Duclair fit into the Canadiens’ roster?

Max Domi’s former teammate didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Blackhawks, and is now free to join the fourth team of his NHL career.

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Montreal Canadiens made the trade to bring Max Domi into the organization, one of the first thoughts many had was of his play at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship and the incredible chemistry he showed with Anthony Duclair on Team Canada’s top line. Both players ranked among the top 10 scorers in the tournament and kept the goaltenders on their toes with a constant barrage of shots.

Knowing Domi would be ready to make the jump to the NHL 20 months later, his Arizona Coyotes made the decision to acquire Duclair at the 2015 trade deadline, adding him to their roster in the transaction that sent Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers.

The Coyotes were rewarded for that move when the next season began, as both players started their year on a tear. Domi had two-point nights in three of his first four NHL games and had 11 points by the end of October. Duclair had his first NHL hat trick by the third game of the season. When all was said and done, Domi had put together an incredible rookie-season total of 52 points, while Duclair had hit the back of the net 20 times and finished with 44 points. Both players received votes for the Calder Trophy for their efforts.

The following season was one to forget for Duclair. While Domi’s point-per-game pace remained the same, Duclair scored just three goals in his first 41 games, converting at less than half the rate he had in the previous campaign. A stint in the AHL didn’t help him to regain his form, with just one goal in 16 contests with the Tucson Roadrunners. Brought back up after the trade deadline, he managed another two goals and four assists before the end of what was a dismal season for team and player.

With 15 points in his first 33 games last season, he was traded for the second time in his brief NHL career, joining the Chicago Blackhawks in mid-January. Eight points in the 23 games he played there made a poor impression on Stan Bowman’s staff, and Duclair now finds himself looking at becoming a free agent at just 22 years of age.

Perhaps lost in all those recent disappointing numbers was his goal total with the Coyotes last season. He scored nine time in those 33 games — an 82-game pace of 22, which would have been a new career high. There is still some goal-scoring potential that a team may be able to unleash.

The Montreal Canadiens could be interested in Duclair, hoping to find the chemistry he and Domi showed at two different levels earlier in their hockey careers. Duclair can play either side, and could therefore be comfortable as a left-handed option to fill a hole the team currently has on the right side of the forward lineup (assuming Andrew Shaw’s services are stilll needed at centre).

Which side of the ice he lines up on at even strength doesn’t really matter once he’s in the offensive zone. He’ll make his way right to the front of the net regardless of where he was initially positioned.

In both his great 2015-16 season when he scored 20 goals and his part season with Arizona last year, the majority of his shots came from around 10 feet from the goal line, right in front of the crease. It’s easy to see how he was able to score at better than a 20-goal pace in each sample.

As a shooter, he needs someone to get the puck to him. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, that proved more difficult than it sounds last season.

Domi would be the top candidate to set up his former teammate, and it seems from looking at the charts above that it would just be a matter of time before things started falling their way once again. However, Domi is only one player, and the Canadiens have several shooters on the roster already who need to be set up to use their shots effectively. With Max Pacioretty, Artturi Lehkonen, and Charles Hudon all performing below their standards, Domi was already going to be a busy man. The fact that he replaced one of the few players who were able to put up assists last year rather than join him to help share the workload means he will be taxed enough as it is without having another player on the roster to take care of.

The AHL team in Duclair’s hometown of Laval is in need of players to play the right side, and they do have a few more playmakers than what can currently be found at the NHL level. Were the decision to sign Duclair made with him playing at that level the primary goal, an inexpensive contract could make sense.

At the NHL level, Duclair’s offensive skill set would be redundant on a team that already has several under-served shooters, and ones who bring more to the team than that one dimension. The Canadiens would be better served by adding someone who can complement the offensive players they already have.