Expect Blue Jackets to be very glad they signed Duclair

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The Vegas Golden Knights provided a lot of lessons to the rest of the NHL, if teams wanted to listen. One of the key messages many seemed to receive was that the Golden Knights took talented, unappreciated players, gave them great opportunities, and raked in the profits.

When we look back at free agency, John Tavares‘ signing will create the greatest impact (successful or not), but from a value perspective, the Columbus Blue Jackets landing Anthony Duclair for the league minimum will be tough to beat.

Consider the circumstances for a moment. Duclair is just 22. He scored 20 goals and 44 points for the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16, albeit riding an unsustainable shooting percentage of 19. At just $650K in 2018-19, the intriguing winger will make less money than obscure Blue Jackets such as Markus Hännikäinen and Alex Broadhurst.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline sheds some light on why Duclair accepted such a cheap deal with Columbus (sub required), with his reps explaining that the Blue Jackets represent “the best situation, hockey-wise.”

“I’m a bit embarrassed how it happened,” Duclair said to Portzline. “Since my rookie season, the last couple of years have been a bit of a roller coaster. But at the same time, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

“It’s a huge wake-up call to be a free agent at 22 years old, definitely not ideal.”

Much of that article focuses on Duclair hoping to improve, and one can understand why he’d feel that way, especially considering that demand seemed tepid for his services.

The thing is, the Blue Jackets would easily get their money’s worth even if John Tortorella & Co. decide to give Duclair the same limited role he suffered through with the Coyotes and then Blackhawks last season. Consider his successes despite averaging just 13:17 TOI in 2017-18, and generally only getting 13 minutes of ice time so far in his young career.

As much as this seems to be a “prove it” season for Duclair, the Blue Jackets would be wise to keep an eye on his progress. If he reaches the “tremendous potential” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about with Portzline, then Columbus might be wise to sign him to a team-friendly extension as soon as the CBA would allow it.

It’s fair to wonder if Duclair risks getting lost in the shuffle once again, too.

While Columbus isn’t well-stocked with high-end forwards (making the possible exit of Artemi Panarin, one of their rare premium scorers, that much scarier), the Blue Jackets can be a tough team to deal with when their deep group of attackers gets it going. After also adding Riley Nash to a group that includes Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Pierre Luc-Dubois, Nick Foligno, recently extended Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Duclair is far from guaranteed a big-time role.

(That’s especially true if Columbus’ work is more or less done this summer, if Sonny Milano progresses significantly, and if Brandon Dubinsky is reasonably healthy and on-task.)

Such a scenario makes you wonder if there would have been an even more mutually beneficial situation out there for Duclair. Cap-challenged teams like the Oilers or Penguins could have done worse than to give the intriguing scorer a look, particularly at such a bargain rate. The Montreal Canadiens would have made a lot of sense for the Quebec native, too.

Duclair only signed a one-year contract with Columbus, so for all we know, the above teams may get another chance to land him.

If things are fairer, Duclair would receive far richer offers and greater opportunities next time around. As it stands, though, this is a fantastic, low-risk signing for the Blue Jackets.

More bargains in 2018

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.