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Former Coyote Duclair happy for greater opportunity with Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Anthony Duclair (91) takes the ice for the first time with the team, against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anthony Duclair had dinner with some of his former Coyotes teammates on Sunday night, but good friend Max Domi couldn’t make it due to a prior engagement.

Duclair wasn’t happy about it.

“No, not a good excuse,” he said, smiling. “He owes me one now.”

That’s about the only complaint Duclair can muster one month after the Coyotes traded the 22-year-old right wing to the Chicago Blackhawks for 27-year-old forward Richard Panik and minor-league center Laurent Dauphin.

He has averaged more than 15 minutes of ice time in six of his past seven games and he is playing alongside one of the league’s most respected players on Chicago’s top line.

“Most of my time, I play with a guy like Jonathan Toews,” Duclair said after the Blackhawks’ Monday morning skate at the Ice Den Scottsdale. “I don’t think it gets any better than that.

“Just getting this opportunity has been great. Obviously, we’ve been struggling a little bit but to get some ice time and get some confidence going is huge for me.”

Duclair enjoyed little of either in the first two months of this season with the Coyotes. He was a healthy scratch 10 times in the 43 games before the trade, including a stretch where he was scratched five times in six games, and seven in nine from Oct. 30 to Nov. 14. He played fewer than 15 minutes in all but 10 of those 43 games.

“You always want to play,” he said. “You don’t want to be sitting in the stands. It was a tough situation for me but at the same time I’m just happy to move on and just happy to be here right now.”

Duclair raised eyebrows immediately after the trade when he told reporters in Chicago that he didn’t feel he had the best chance to succeed with the Coyotes.

“I didn’t have the leash that others had,” he said. “Not going to say it was unfair to me, but talking to older guys on the team, they felt I deserved better. And I thought so, too.”

Domi knew Duclair was unhappy.

“Overall when you look at Duke’s game, he’s arguably one of the fastest guys in the league and he’s maybe one of the most skilled guys in the league,” Domi said. “If he’s playing with the right guys, he sets himself up for success.

“I’m not going to comment on the whole shorter leash thing but he had some tough luck. There were some stretches where I thought he could have had five or 10 goals and none of them would go in. I know he was able to stick with it and right before he left, he was arguably one of our best players.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hasn’t seen any of the worth ethic issues that dogged Duclair in Arizona.

“His work has been fine,” Quenneville said. “Duke’s had some good games, good stretches in games. I think the one thing with him is getting that consistency throughout his 60 minutes, and predictability on both sides of the puck is something (in which) he’s shown signs of improvement.”

Duclair is still searching for better productivity. In 12 games with Chicago, he has two goals and five points. Quenneville is still figuring out the best fit for Duclair on a team that is both fighting for a playoff spot and transitioning to a younger lineup.

“I think you can use him in different spots,” Quenneville said. “I still think he’s got the ability to score, got the ability to add speed to your team, he’s got some skills and you can use him on a number of different lines and you expect that line to score.”

Duclair wouldn’t directly answer whether he thought the criticism of him in Arizona was fair.

“I didn’t read anything to be honest with you,” he said. “I couldn’t care less to be honest. I’m happy to be here right now.”

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