While there is Boston Bruins 2-0-1 start to the shortened 2013 season is cause for excitement amongst fans, the certainty surrounding left-winger Milan Lucic’s time with the team raises an interesting debate. Just days before the beginning of the NHL lockout, the 25 year-old Canadian signed a 3-year $ 18 million dollar extension to remain a member of the Bruins. While Lucic’s talent is unquestioned, his production and focus have not always matched up to his potential. The Bruins seemingly have all the pieces (including Lucic’s A game) to make a very serious run at a Stanley Cup, but if Lucic doesn’t play up to his considerable abilities, he could face the possibility of being traded.
To understand the total impact Lucic can have on a game sometimes has to be seen in person to be believed. Watching Lucic in person at Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Hurricanes, Lucic played like all four of the Avengers rolled into one. He’s built like Thor, fights like the Hulk, finishes like Captain America, and has the looks of Tony Stark.
Lucic’s stat line read 1 assist, +2, and just over fifteen minutes of ice time, but that was hardly the whole story. Watching Lucic, a t 6’4 and 225 lbs., glide through the middle of the offensive zone, draw the entire Carolina Hurricanes defense, and deftly slide it over to Mark Savard for an easy one timer, was exhilarating to watch. The play, which was nearly entirely created by Lucic, was a vital insurance goal that halted the Hurricanes moment, and decisively swung the game in Boston’s favor.
What was even more impressive than Lucic’s assist was his play in the neutral zone. With the Bruins up 3 goals in the third period, the Bruins essentially played all three forwards in the neutral zone, which made it impossible for Carolina to generate any kind of rush or forcheck. At the heart of it this strategy seemed to be Lucic, who spent the remainder of the game circling the neutral zone waiting to concuss any body dared to come me over the middle to receive a cross-ice pass. Lucic would go on to score a goal in Game 7 as well, although the Bruins wound up losing the game, and the series in overtime.
This brief example is one of many that Bruins fans have witnessed over the years. Lucic is blessed with one of the most complete skill sets in the NHL. His speed, size, touch, shot, physicality, and aggressiveness could allow him to be one of the NHL’s best.
The problem is his startling lack of his consistency. While other power forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, and Correy Perry are constantly producing, Lucic’s production has been very uneven. Despite putting up 30 goals in 2010, and 26 goals in 2011, Lucic has had his share of struggles in the playoffs. In 13 games in the 2010 playoffs Lucic had a solid 9 points in 13 games. In 2011, Lucic managed just 12 points in the Bruins 25 game championship run. Even more disturbing, Lucic managed just three assists and 0 goals in the Bruins 7 game series versus Washington last spring, This despite his highest time on ice per game in his playoff career.
The Bruins strong defensive-minded philosophy puts added pressure on players such as Lucic to capitalize on every shift. Those who have watched Lucic’s best games have also seen his worst. He can get carried away with fighting, take to many unnecessary penalties, and worst of all, he can disappear from the score sheet for games at a time.
Lucic’s substantial new contract from the Bruins also creates added pressure. Professional athlete’s in any sport often work harder and have higher production in the last year of a contract. Given that Bruins fans will certainly expect the left-winger live up to all of that money immediately, it is possible that Lucic could buckle under an even greater weight of expectations.
Given the rate that general manger Peter Chiarelli has let players go (Kessel, Corvo, Wheeler) any situation involving Lucic is in play. If Lucic is able to focus his talents, he should, at the very least, give Bruins fans a sense of cautious optimism for what’s left of his career in Boston. Whether that is 30 games, 3 years, or longer remains to be seen.
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