Yes, the evolution of Milan Lucic has Boston fans torn but excited at the same time and that very evolution was on full display against the Panthers.
Throughout his young career fans have come to know Milan Lucic as a player who can not only throw a big hit but as a player who also loves to drop the gloves and express his displeasure by pummeling his opponents. Lucic has toned down the violence this season and it is no coincidence that he has already set a new career high in goals and is on pace to shatter his career high in points.
Through forty-seven games this season Lucic has sixty penalty minutes and just two fights. Twenty-two of those sixty penalty minutes came December 23rd against the Thrashers when Lucic was called for high sticking in the first period and then assessed a ten minute game misconduct and a ten minute match penalty during an end game brawl.
Lucic’s two fights this season both came all the way back in October, with Lucic seemingly focusing more on scoring and producing points and less on fistic justice since. Boston’s hulking winger fought thirteen times in 2007-08, ten times in 2008-09 and four times in an injury shortened 2009-10 season. While many fans have openly pined for the “old” Lucic, the punishing forward’s hands are now being put to better use.
“Well I think Looch is at a stage in his career now, he’s still a young player, but he’s got enough experience here now that it’s going to be his fourth year but here’s one of those guys that’s building consistency in his game and what should I expect from him? I should expect him continue playing a physical game, we should expect him to continue to produce because he’s capable of doing that,” said head coach Claude Julien.
Lucic spent his offseason getting healthy after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign and working on his shot. The Bruins wanted more from their power forward in training and more importantly Lucic wanted more from himself. Before the season he said his goal was to light the lamp twenty times this season, his previous career high in that category being seventeen.
His evolution was on full display early in the second period against Florida. Less than two minutes into the period, David Krejci lined up to take a faceoff in the Panthers zone. Krejci cleanly won the faceoff and passed the puck back to Lucic. Lucic collected the puck, picked a corner and fired a beautiful shot towards Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. Seconds later the red light was on and Lucic had scored his 20th goal of the season, a goal that would be the eventual game winner.
“That was a big question coming in from myself and a lot of people if I was able to get to that mark, and it came a lot quicker than I thought but most importantly it was a big goal to help the team win here,” Lucic said.
“I’m just taking it one at a time, just looking at every game here and just try to create chances and opportunities. I’ve had some real great linemates this year, and I feel like I’ve been skating better, and I’ve worked on my shot so I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been able to produce. And looking forward it’s the same thing. I’ve just got to take it one game at a time. I shouldn’t change anything and keep pushing for more.”
As Lucic’s game has involved, the young winger seems to have recognized that perhaps he is better served to stay on the ice and help his team beat their opponents on the scoreboard rather than introducing opposing players to his fists. Lucic still has his temper, but also has better self control. He has no problem letting other players know if they have wronged him or his teammates, but the gloves do not come off as easy and the shoves and cross checks that put him in the sin bin often in prior seasons are held in check.
Lucic still has work to do, as do almost all players his age, and consistency has been a problem, though less so as the season goes on. He had a rough late December, early January stretch where he had trouble finding the back of the net but the drive and desire he shows to improve should guide Lucic to even further success.
“Yeah they [goals] didn’t come right away, that’s for sure. But they’ve come in the last five games here. So like I said, all the credit to my linemates here, they’ve been finding me and I’ve been able to get open for them,” Lucic said. “And I’ve been working on my quick release this summer and also a lot with Geoff Ward and Jarvy [Doug Jarvis], just working on one-timers and getting myself in scoring positions and getting a good, hard, quick shot off.”
And that is exactly what the Bruins need Lucic to do. Lucic needs to keep that physical edge to his game, intimidating opponents with those thunderous hits that he dishes out so well, while also improving his offensive arsenal. Developing a strong offensive game to go with the brute force he possesses could make Lucic Boston’s most dangerous weapon.
As his evolution continues and he sets new milestones for himself, do his goals get bigger?
“You know what, yeah like I said one game at a time, one goal at a time, so we’ll see where I can get to this year.”