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If Duclair doesn’t snap out of funk, AHL demotion is an option

Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (9) competes with Arizona Coyotes left wing Anthony Duclair (10) for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes right wing Anthony Duclair was a healthy scratch on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. The decision by coach Dave Tippett was intended to send a message to Duclair, who has just one goal in 25 games this season.

If Duclair doesn’t respond soon, the Coyotes may consider another move over the next few games. This one would send even bigger ripples through the locker room and the Coyotes community.

Duclair is still exempt from waivers for another 39 games after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Nashville at Gila River Arena. That means the team could opt to assign him to Tucson of the American Hockey League, and that option is on the table.

Coach Dave Tippett reunited the line of left wing Tobias Rieder, center Martin Hanzal and Duclair on Thursday against Calgary with the hope that Duclair could rekindle the magic he enjoyed last season when he had 20 goals as a rookie. It didn’t work. Duclair took two penalties, the first of which led to Calgary’s game-tying goal in the first period. By the end of the game he had been demoted in the lineup.

Duclair logged just 8:21 of ice time, the lowest total on the team other than Ryan White, who missed 19 minutes of the game due to an instigator penalty, a fighting major, a 10-minute misconduct and a cross-checking penalty.

“First goal, Duclair turns it over at the blue line and comes and takes a penalty and it’s in our net,” Tippett said after that game. “He’s got to compete harder. He’s not competing at a level that’s going to let him be effective right now. We’re trying to push him and prod him and we sat him out. We’ll keep coaching away and see if we can get him up to speed but right now he’s not competing at the level we need from him.”

Duclair’s production level wouldn’t be acceptable for any top-six forward. It is doubly troubling for him because scoring goals is the reason he is here, and now the Coyotes must play a week without their best set-up man, Max Domi, who is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Scoring goals is not an easy job, but Duclair has to use his speed, skill and work ethic to generate offense because he’s not going to provide as much in other areas such as defensive play or physical presence.

This isn’t the first time a coach has questioned Duclair’s approach to the game. Nine days after the Coyotes acquired Duclair from the New York Rangers in a trade-deadline deal in 2015 that sent Keith Yandle to New York, Duclair was a healthy scratch for the Quebec Remparts’ QMJHL game against Shawnigan.

A report in the Journal de Montreal suggested Duclair was in coach Philippe Boucher’s doghouse for attitude problems. The healthy scratch came two years after then-Remparts coach Patrick Roy suspended Duclair for “attitude issues” that may have been real or may have been the product of other teammates pointing fingers.

The Coyotes don’t have any issues with Duclair as a person. They think he’s a good kid and they believe he puts in the necessary work at practice and off the ice. There may be a mental element to Duclair’s game when he starts to struggle, one that bogs him down, leading him to give in to a slump rather than fighting his way out of it.

“When he gets in there he’s got to do some things to help the group win,” Tippett said. “He’s got to make plays. He’s a talented player. Whether it’s make a play to create an opportunity or make a play to get a puck out or make a play to score a goal, that’s what are his greatest attributes.”

Duclair was not available to talk to the media either during or after Saturday’s game, and he left the arena quickly after the game.

Maybe a complete reset in Tucson would be best for Duclair. Maybe Domi’s injury will stall those plans. Maybe Duclair will snap out of it before the team has to make that decision, but the goal-starved Coyotes probably won’t wait too much longer to make that call. They are 28th in the league in goals per game at 2.22. They need production from Duclair. They need it now.

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