(Sunrise) Anthony Duclair had just had the best season of his career when bad luck struck. Not nearly.

It happened in the summer, quite simply, without the slightest warning. It happened during a simple warm-up, another, while the now 27-year-old was out walking. Nothing unusual so far.

But he had a sharp pain, and Duclair found himself on the ground, as if someone had pushed him from behind.

There was no one behind him, but there was this outcome he hadn’t expected: an injury to his left Achilles tendon, the kind of injury that no one recovers easily from.

It was long here too.

“A serious injury like that, I hadn’t experienced that yet since I’ve been in the league,” the Quebec forward explained in the Panthers locker room at Sunrise on Wednesday. Before that, I think I had been injured at 14, but that’s it…”

After having surgery in July, Duclair finally returned to the game… on February 24. The Panthers’ game against the Canadiens, this Thursday night at Sunrise, will only be their seventh game of the season.

It was long, we said, and Duclair spent very long days at the gym, at the arena, bringing in his personal trainer from Montreal, working with the Panthers coach, talking with the Panthers psychologist.

“There were busy days, with only one day off a week,” he recalls. It is a wound that you have to attack every day. »

Paul Maurice saw this relentlessness up close almost every day.

“We have to pay tribute to him,” replied the head coach of the Panthers about his player. It’s not an injury you recover from easily. Not to mention the doubts and anxiety when you see players whose season ends because of the same injury. I was surprised how good he was when he came back. »

But before that comeback, Duclair admits there were moments of discouragement, especially when things weren’t moving fast enough for him.

“An injury like that at least allows you to take a step back…everything happens for a reason.” So it was time to think about my career, about life… Of course you want to stay optimistic and you want to go to the arena smiling, but it’s hard and sometimes it gets long . »

This optimism eventually led to his return on February 24. Since that date, the Quebec player has collected a goal and two assists. Those numbers obviously won’t come close to those of last season, when Duclair had the best season of his career, with 58 points in 74 games, but they seem to indicate that the best is yet to come, perhaps.

According to Paul Maurice, the Anthony Duclair new version has not finished progressing.

“He always believed he had to score to stay in this league and that’s true, because he’s a pure scorer,” the Panthers coach said. He always wants to shoot the puck. We believe that with this approach, he is the perfect guy to play with [Aleksander] Barkov, because Barkov is going to hand the puck to him… Barkov needs a marker to go with him. »

“The question now is this: can you build your defensive game strong enough to play against the top line on the opposing team every night? We want him to be an offensive player, but also work on his defensive game. »

So the Anthony Duclair that the Canadian will meet this Thursday evening will be the one of the present and also that of the future, the one he wishes to become to be the most complete version of himself.

At least, this long forced leave will have allowed him to get there.

“You can learn a lot just by watching the games from the top of the stands when you’re not playing,” he added. One can learn just by observing the tendencies of other players. I think it makes me a smarter player on the ice. »