By Sean Hartnett
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Anthony Duclair has entertained Rangers fans with his game-changing speed and remarkable sniping ability throughout the preseason.READ MORE: Johnson & Johnson COVID Vaccinations Suspended Across Tri-State As Federal Health Officials Investigate Rare Blood Clots
The supremely talented 19-year-old led the Rangers with five points and his three goals tied him for the team lead during the preseason. His play was so outstanding that he was awarded the Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award as the Rangers’ top rookie at training camp.
Now, the third round pick in the 2013 draft will be given the green light to test his array of skills under the brightest spotlight against the NHL’s best on a nightly basis. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after Monday’s practice that Duclair will make his debut on Thursday against the Blues in St. Louis.
“I met him this morning, and explained to him that he was going to start the season with us,” Vigneault said. “Basically, to put it this way, as long as you can prove that you can play on our top line, you’re going to stick with us. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to play every game. When he plays, he has to play on our top-nine forwards. He’s going to get an opportunity to start Thursday and prove that.”
Duclair has been playing and practicing on the left side of a top line centered by Martin St. Louis, with Rick Nash on his opposite wing. It seems that he has earned the full trust of Vigneault. Duclair has worked on power play units with St. Louis and Nash, and has also spent occasional preseason minutes on the penalty kill.
‘HE’S GOT AN NHL SKILL SET’
Vigneault is a great admirer of Duclair’s talent, but has pointed out that he will have to prove himself.
“He’s got an NHL skill set,” Vigneault said. “The hands, speed, the thinking with the puck — it’s there. Now, can that continue when the season starts against full NHL lineups and full NHL pace and intensity? He’s going to get the chance to prove that. So far, he’s earned the right to start with us on Thursday. We’ll see what happens.”
Besides his obvious offensive aptitude, Duclair has shown that he’s a responsible player in all areas of the ice and has shown a tendency to harass opposing puck carriers.
Last Wednesday, Vigneault praised Duclair’s enthusiasm, saying the rookie hasn’t backed down from any challenge.
“Every time I go up to the Duke, it’s, ‘Have you killed penalties before?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ ‘Have you played the right side before?’ ‘Yeah, yeah.’ So today, I went to him and said, ‘Have you played the point on the power play?’ He says, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’” Vigneault said.
‘WORDS CAN’T DESCRIBE HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW’
A delighted Duclair couldn’t contain his excitement after being informed that he made the Rangers’ regular season roster.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Duclair said. “I had the meeting with AV there this morning. He told me that I’m starting the season with the Rangers. Words can’t really describe how I feel right now, but I worked hard all the way up to this point and I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Duclair said that he immediately called his parents after learning that he had made the Rangers. His father, who is actually a Rangers fan, must be overjoyed.
After nine NHL games, the Rangers will have to decide whether to keep Duclair in the NHL or return him to his junior club, the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Duclair scored 50 goals and recorded 49 assists in 59 regular season games for the Remparts last season.
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The Rangers traded center Andrew Yogan and defenseman Steven Kampfer to the Florida Panthers for Joe Crabb on Monday to make room on the 50-man roster for Duclair.
Kampfer had been in the mix to make the Rangers as a seventh defenseman, but was beaten out by Matt Hunwick.
Vigneault prefers defensemen with speed. That asset proved to be the difference, as Hunwick beat out Kampfer and Mike Kostka.
“He outplayed those guys by a little bit,” Vigneault said. “Maybe it was his ability to beat the forecheck on dump-ins, quick to turn, a little shuffle back there to beat the first guy. It seemed that we were out of our end a little bit quicker.”
Forwards Ryan Haggerty, Marek Hrivik, Oscar Lindberg, Matthew Lombardi, defensemen Kostka, Dylan McIlrath and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins all cleared waivers and have been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.
STEPAN UPDATE, ROSTER TRIMMED TO 25
Vigneault confirmed that center Derek Stepan will be placed on the long-term injured reserve. He cannot be activated until 24 days or 10 games have passed.
The Rangers’ current 25-man roster includes Stepan and center Chris Mueller, who was placed on waivers following Monday’s practice.
Forwards (16): Derick Brassard, Duclair, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Carl Hagelin, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Ryan Malone, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Mueller, Nash, St. Louis, Lee Stempniak, Stepan, Mats Zuccarello
Defensemen (7): Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi, Hunwick, Kevin Klein, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal
Goaltenders (2): Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Talbot
Mueller spoke briefly to the media after learning of the roster move.
“We’ll see what happens in the next 24 hours,” Mueller said.
Vigneault indicated that Mueller could be back with the Rangers should he clear waivers. Forward Hayes is day-to-day due to a shoulder injury. Currently, the Rangers’ top four centers are St. Louis, Brassard, Miller and Dominic Moore.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey
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