Milan Lucic was elated and energized at his first press conference. He was very clear on why he signed in Edmonton, and was well aware of the organization’s past struggles. He didn’t mince his words when describing how it was to play against the Oilers, but also how having Connor McDavid on the roster meant good times were ahead.
A few things stood out for me at his media avail and later when I spoke with him one-on-one.
He might be the leanest 235 pound player I’ve seen. His wife Brittany accompanied him at his first press conference atop the Delta Hotel parkade with the new arena strategically in the background. She is well-versed in nutrition and health, and you could tell by looking at Lucic’s frame. He mentioned she is really informed and keeps him on a strict diet.
He was very lean, and it is easy to see why he is able to demolish players with hard hits; his shoulders and chest are massive. Usually players who are 230 pounds have a big trunk and thick legs. It wasn’t like Lucic walked in on a chicken, his legs were far from skinny, but his upper chest, shoulders and back stood out.
Lucic began speaking by thanking the Los Angeles Kings, especially his teammates, for supporting him through a very tough time in his life, and then he turned his focus to his new challenge: trying to help the Oilers become relevant.
There was one main reason why he signed in Edmonton.
“Connor McDavid,” he responded with a laugh and unbridled enthusiasm.
“And my loyalty to Peter
[Chiarelli]. Obviously I’d been with him for eight years in Boston and saw
what he was able to do there, and how he turned us
into champions. And going back to McDavid, just getting an opportunity to play
with one of the best players I would say, of this time, and I know he
missed a good chunk of last season with an injury, but from what I saw, what he
was able to do, he’s definitely up there with the Crosbys of the world in his
“To have that opportunity to play with a player
like that doesn’t come around often, and I think having the opportunity
to play with a guy like that, there is definitely light at the end of the
tunnel. There hasn’t been that in Edmonton for a long time and I wanted to
do whatever I could to help and to be a part of it. I truly believe that in a
couple of years we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup because we have
a player like that. It’s just finding the right pieces in order to make that
happen,” he said.
History has shown that drafting a “generational” talent gives you an excellent chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Sidney Crosby all made it to Finals, and all of them, except Lindros, won multiple championships.
But to win a Championship you need a great supporting cast, and a few Hall of Famers.
Howe won four Stanley Cups at age 21, 23, 25 and 26, and played with fellow future Hall of Famers Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall.
Orr hoisted the Cup when he was 21 and 23 years young, and skated with future HHOF inductees Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Gerry Cheevers.
Gretzky won when he was 23, 24, 26 and 27 years old. He had Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri. They Oilers were so good, they won another Cup without Gretzky in 1990.
Lemieux raised the Cup when he was 25 and 26 years old. He had future HHOF teammates in Paul Coffey, Joe Mullen, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy and Bryan Trottier, and Jaromir Jagr will join them when he retires.
Crosby has won at age 21 and 28. He and Evgeni Malkin look like locks to be in the HHOF, while Kris Letang and Phil Kessel might join them depending how the rest of their careers unfold.
Lindros made the Finals when he was 23. He did have two older HHOF members on his team, Paul Coffey and Dale Hawerchuk, but they were in the later stages of their careers. Philly lost to a Red Wings team loaded with HHOf players in Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Federov, Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Nick Lidstrom and Murphy.
McDavid is an outstanding player, and he’ll likely win numerous Hart and Art Ross trophies, but in order for the Oilers to win he will need a few excellent teammates. It is obvious the Oilers need to start building a winning tradition and Lucic believes he can help.
about time this team starts heading in the right direction and I
just wanted to be a part of that (another reason he signed here). It’s also about time this team started having
a little bit of attitude and a little bit of swagger because I think that that
has been missing over the last couple of years. I can tell you from an opponent’s standpoint, you were never
scared or intimidated heading into a game against the Oilers. So I think that
that’s something that we all have to change as a group. I don’t think that it
just comes from one or two guys, I think that it’s as a group that we have to
change that. And we need to send a message right from the first puck drop,” said Lucic.
I have discussed this many times, and while some believed it wasn’t an issue, I doubt they do now after hearing Lucic say it so bluntly. The Oilers have been too easy to play against, and I asked Lucic how they will instill this attitude within the entire group.
“It’s something that you’ve got to do as a
group and you’ve got to have that attitude and that swagger and that’s
something you have to build as a team. You’ve got to have a little bit
of the right type of cockiness, where you’re going into a game knowing that you
can win every game and that has to be the mindset.
“Obviously you can’t be arrogant about it.
You can’t overlook things, but you’ve got to take things one step at a time to
be a harder team to play against. I think doing it as a group, wave
after wave, shift after shift, guys going out there committed to doing the same
thing — that’s how it starts the process
of being a harder team to play against,” Lucic explained.
It isn’t about fighting, although when I pointed out to Lucic that Peter Chiarelli has bulked up the team with Lucic, Darnell Nurse, Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon he replied, “It is good to have a few guys with a screw loose on the team (laughs). It helps.”
Well said. For many players going against players are who are unpredictable is more intimidating than having a guy who you know is tough, but will never be cheap or dirty.
Lucic was also adamant he’ll be able to contribute for a long time. Ryan Rishaug asked him about the contract and the concerns about the seven-year term.
“Well, a lot of people forget I just turned
twenty eight this month,” said Lucic. “I’m still young as far as hockey age goes, and just
because I’ve played nine years doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot left. I
think coming to a place like this is definitely going to be refreshing for me.
“If you look at the last six seasons, I’ve only missed ten games and I
think only four of them were due to injuries, so I’ve been able to hold up,
especially playing the way I do. I think I’ve averaged two hundred and
fifty hits in the nine years that I’ve been in the league. So, good thing I
have the Eastern European strong bones and stuff like that [laughs] on my side
to be injury free, knock on wood, and hopefully I can keep that going. I’ve
always taken pride in keeping myself in good shape and I’m going to continue doing that moving along,” Lucic said.
When teams lose, leadership gets talked about much more than it should. Yes, you always want good leaders, but if you have no talent, I don’t care how great your leaders are, you won’t win. Leadership isn’t just being a veteran and expecting the young kids to listen to you. That has been a major issue the past few years in Edmonton. You have to find a common ground. You can’t preach.
I asked Lucic about being a leader in Edmonton. He has nine years of experience. He’s played in 101 playoff games and he will be looked upon to be a difference maker in Edmonton.
We discussed leadership, how he could possibly help a guy like Patrick Maroon and which veterans he learned from.
“He (Maroon) is similar age. I hope I can help him improve. I think you can always learn from guys whether they are older or younger. I can learn some things from him as well. You mentioned learning from a guy like Zdeno Chara, who played a big influence on me, but another guy was Shawn Thornton. He doesn’t get talked about enough on what kind of locker room guy he was for us in Boston. He brought guys together and kept everyone accountable. That is what I learned from him the most, how to keep guys accountable and hopefully I can do that here,” said Lucic.
It isn’t easy, and you can’t do it alone. Every successful team has different types of leaders and the Oilers need a few more players to become leaders. Matt Hendricks and head coach Todd McLellan admitted the Oilers have a quiet room. They don’t have many naturally vocal players. You can’t ask them to be who they aren’t, but it is an area McLellan wanted Chiarelli to address.
Lucic is comfortable being vocal when he deems it necessary. Nurse has those attributes as well and he’ll be a vocal leader in the future. McDavid will lead more by example. He’s not a vocal player, and when he’s named captain, likely sometime right before the start of the season, no one should expect him to suddenly change. He’ll need Lucic and some others who are comfortable being the vocal leaders.
Lucic believes Nurse understands what it takes to be a leader.
“I complimented him (after the game they fought each other) huge for standing up for one his teammates after taking a big hit. When I talk about team toughness and being a harder team to play against, those are the things you need. Once he fills out and grows into his own I think he’s going to be a big piece of he puzzle.
“Toughness now is more about getting in on the forecheck, making good, hard strong plays. Being hard in the neutral zone, getting out of the D-zone as quick as possible or the D being hard in our zone down low. It is winning those battles that I talk about being team tough. It’s not always about fighting.
“It is about standing up for each other, being hard to play against and being hard and heavy in those areas you need to be to win. That is the direction we need to start getting better at in order to have the success we want,” said Lucic.
Lucic will try to instill a new attitude, but he can’t do it alone, and it will be interesting to see how this group reacts to a player who can not only lead by example, but also has the ability to challenge his teammates and hold them accountable.
The Oilers haven’t had a 28-year-old leader in a long time, and he should help them, but as Lucic said the biggest key to the Oilers future success begins with the ability of McDavid. Chiarelli must ensure that he surrounds him with enough quality players so the Oilers can finally become competitive again.
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