The Blackhawks got out in front of the Feb. 26 trade deadline by acquiring forward Anthony Duclair and defenseman Adam Clendening on Wednesday in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes that sent forwards Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin the other way.
This comes a week after it was reported Duclair requested a trade out of Arizona, and the Blackhawks didn't waste much time moving in. In fact, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman revealed Wednesday that he had inquired about the 22-year-old forward last year but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement. Talks picked back up 7-10 days ago and the deal "came together pretty quickly," Bowman said.
Duclair has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 33 games this season and is a pending restricted free agent on a contract that carries a $1.2 million cap hit, leaving the door open for a possible extension after the season which would be a win-win for everyone if he performs well enough to earn it.
He's a talented offensive winger who once registered 50 goals and 49 assists for 99 points in 59 games for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. His best season in his young professional career came in 2015-16 when he compiled 20 goals and 24 assists in 81 games for the Coyotes.
But he hasn't gotten to that level since, and it was time for a change of scenery for both sides. And the Blackhawks are hoping to unlock his full potential.
"He's sort of a player that embodies what the NHL is all about now in terms of his speed and his ability to put the puck in the net," Bowman said. "I really like the way he skates, he brings the ability to be a really electrifying player. You have to give him some time. He's coming to a new team so we'll be patient with him. But that element of speed and youth is something that was really important to us."
After the trade, Bowman said he looked at the Blackhawks roster and noticed they have 13 players on the roster who are 25 years old or younger. By his count, they had just four last year around this time.
"In a matter of a year, we've been able to get considerably younger," Bowman said. "But we're still a team that wants to win. We're not playing for the future. But the game today is predicated on being able to skate. It's hard to play if you don't have the quickness and speed. A lot of the guys we've brought in recently bring that element to their game and I think it really meshes with the style Joel [Quenneville] wants to play.
"We want to play an up-tempo game and to do that you need guys on every line, not just on one or two lines. We're trying to get guys on every line, every D pair, that have great mobility."
Duclair certainly fits that mold as a player with speed and goal-scoring ability. His defensive game needs work, but look no further than Nick Schmaltz as a young, offensive-minded player who has become defensively responsible and has earned the trust of his head coach.
For a team scraping to stay in the playoff hunt, the Blackhawks simply lost patience with Panik and couldn't afford to continue waiting on him to produce at the rate he did last season.
The 26-year-old winger has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 37 games this season, but he went 27 games without a goal before Tuesday and had been fighting to stay in the lineup after starting the season on the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. It wasn't enough for a player that has one year remaining on a deal that carries a $2.8 million cap hit.
In trading Panik, the Blackhawks reduced their overall salary number by $1.6 million, according to CapFriendly.com, which they can use down the road to either set up another trade or simply use that flexibility for transactions (roster call-ups) throughout the end of the season.
In the big picture, acquiring Duclair is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Blackhawks. Perhaps playing with a healthy combination of young and veteran skilled players, a handful of whom have three Stanley Cups to their names, behind a Hall of Fame coach can help bring out the best of his abilities.
"He's got some upside," coach Joel Quenneville said of Duclair, who is expected to make his Blackhawks debut Friday at home against the Winnipeg Jets. "A couple opportunities here, coming here he's got to be excited about the chance to prove himself to be a regular, and there's opportunity to move up in the lineup as he goes along here. He certainly gives us a lot of speed and quickness and he's dangerous be if off the rush. So, I'm looking forward to see how he comes in our lineup and give him every opportunity to move up in the lineup as well."