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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

Milan Lucic’s Edmonton debut was an odd mix of career bests and career worsts

2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 27 LW Milan Lucic

When the Edmonton Oilers signed Milan Lucic, many believed that they had found Connor McDavid’s partner for years to come. In defiance of Lucic’s career norms, their collaboration worked brilliantly on the power play, where he had the best season he’s ever had at the NHL level. Also in defiance of career norms, Lucic had a miserable year at 5-on-5, his worst as an established major-leaguer.

Let’s start with what went well.

On the power play, Lucic scored 12 goals. In nine previous NHL seasons, he had scored a grand total of 22, meaning that this year represents more than one-third of his career power play goal totals. It’s also more than the seven he scored over his four previous seasons in the league.

Lucic’s assist totals were less impressive, but he still picked up 13 power play assists, which is more than the 12 he scored over the last two seasons combined.

This wasn’t a function of just getting more ice-time, either. Lucic has played power play minutes his entire career. He hasn’t scored more than 4.0 points/hour since his sophomore campaign; this season he topped 7.0.

It was an incredible year, and it covered up for his anemic scoring pace at even-strength.

At even-strength, Lucic scored just 11 goals and 14 assists. The last time he played in more than 50 games and scored so few even-strength goals he was a rookie; the same is true for assists. At 5-on-5, this was the most disappointing season that Lucic has ever had.

Given that he spent a bunch of the year with McDavid, Lucic’s objectively terrible offensive season at 5-on-5 is a little shocking. And he was considerably worse playing apart from McDavid than he was on the superstar centre’s line:

Season G/60 A/60 P/60 SH/60 iC/60 SH%
2011-12 0.99 1.57 2.56 6.00 11.80 16.50
2012-13 0.54 1.54 2.08 6.23 13.64 8.70
2013-14 0.94 1.09 2.03 6.25 11.99 15.00
2014-15 0.71 0.98 1.69 6.47 12.46 10.90
2015-16 0.81 1.22 2.04 5.09 11.04 16.00
5 Year Avg. 0.82 1.26 2.08 5.98 12.03 14.00
2016-17 w/ 97 0.80 0.66 1.46 7.70 14.08 10.39
2016-17 w/o 97 0.35 0.70 1.05 5.35 9.93 6.54
2016-17 total 0.53 0.69 1.22 6.29 11.60 8.43

That may come across as a wall of numbers, but it’s really pretty straightforward. In order: Goals, assists, points, shots, shot attempts and shooting percentage at even-strength; all except the final number are per hour.

The formula for goals is shots multiplied by shooting percentage. With McDavid, Lucic got more shots, but his shooting percentage was well off his five-year average. As a result, his goal totals stayed flat. Away from McDavid, Lucic’s shooting percentage imploded, and his shot rates fell well below his five-year average.

All else being equal, we’d expect Lucic’s shooting percentage to rebound. He’s one of several Oilers – Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Benoit Pouliot are all part of this club – who had their shooting percentage fall off this year. I’ll confess that I’m not sure why at this point; given how widespread the pattern is, I’m a little suspicious it’s at least somewhat a result of tactical changes in the offensive zone. Digging into it means going through a ton of video, something I hope to do this summer but haven’t had time for in these write-ups.

The shot rates are more troubling. If Lucic gets another look with McDavid, things might be just fine. But Lucic is taking fewer shot attempts than he has in previous years, and away from McDavid the numbers are really ugly.

Lucic’s assist totals imploded, too, and was equally bad whether he was on Edmonton’s top line or not.

All of this continued into the postseason. Lucic had just six points in 13 games, but managed to duck much of the playoff criticism that Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle got because he managed to pot two goals. Both of those goals were on the power play. At 5-on-5, Lucic was just as impotent as his goalless linemates.

Both the good and the bad trends might be too extreme to continue into next season.

Lucic has been a mediocre power play option for the entirety of his career, and even the magic of McDavid probably isn’t enough to turn him into the league’s sixth-most efficient scorer over the long term. This was a year where absolutely everything went right on the man advantage, and while I expect Lucic to continue to outperform his career power play numbers, it was just too good not to regress to some degree.

At the same time, Lucic’s 5-on-5 shooting percentage was absurdly low by his standards. He’s proven himself to be a legitimately skilled even-strength offensive weapon over his career, and the idea that his scoring touch and playmaking ability have gone away entirely before his 30th birthday seems too ridiculous to be true.

The question, in both cases, is one of degree.

If the power play numbers cool off only slightly, and the even-strength totals rebound, it’s possible that we’ll look back on 2016-17 as a one-off as Lucic adjusted to playing in Edmonton. In this case we’ll see him come almost all the way back to being the player he was in Boston and Los Angeles (minus the very gradual erosion most players his age undergo).

On the other hand, there’s the example of Dustin Brown. Brown was Lucic’s age in 2012-13 when he had his last good season – a season marked by miserable even-strength totals and career-best numbers on the power play. Like Lucic, Brown was well-known for his physical style of play, something that may have caused him to wear down earlier than the typical NHL winger. The collapse of his game has made his contract perhaps the worst in the NHL.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s more likely that 2016-17 was an aberration than the start of a new trend. But in Peter Chiarelli’s shoes, I’d be acutely conscious of the six remaining years on Lucic’s deal, as well as the fact that the contract structure makes a buyout virtually impossible. A strong start to next season would be immensely reassuring.

Bottom line: Lucic was expected to bring both a scoring touch and deterrent value to Connor McDavid’s wing. Instead, he ended up losing a top line job and playing the role of physical presence and power play specialist. It was an unsettling Edmonton debut, but a player with his impressive track record deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Previous year-end reviews:

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    we all need our scapegoats and Lucic is this year’s version and likely many years to come. he wasn’t fast enough to play alongside Connor all season and he did go through a long stretch this season of not scoring a goal, like Eberle did, but i was OK with what he brought us this year.

    • Hockey123

      Allow me a single false premise, and I can prove anything I like

      who said we all need scapegoats. Lucic was brought in for playoffs and he looked horrible.

    • Kr55

      McLellan forcing Lucic/McDavid was the main reason for Lucic’s bad number this year. It was a complete waste of time, and the lack of chemistry was apparent to everyone watching. Basically wasted half a season where Lucic could have been building on some chemistry that actually could work 5v5. Hopefully McLellan finds a more positive line combo for him next year. Lucic/Drai being together has promise IMO.

  • Devolution

    I think it is safe to say Lucic brings intangibles to the team, like an overall toughness that we have been looking for for years. I think it is too early to panic, all athletes have ups and downs and he is a long ways from being a problem.

  • Kr55

    He and the coaches need to figure out how to get him to play to his strengths more. He was carrying the puck way too much in the playoffs. Every time he came off the boards with the puck and tried to carry it through the middle “protecting” the puck, I just cringed, because you knew he was just about to lose it. In fairness though, on the 666 line, he was the only guy who could win a puck battle, so he had to spend so much time along the boards instead of being able to battle around the net. If he goes to the net instead of joining the puck battle on the boards, all it means is Nuge or Ebs lose the puck and he has to start skating back to his own end anyways. I’ll be really interested to see how Lucic/Drai can work next year.

  • RJ

    If you’re playing NHL 17, you can just put two players together and it works.

    But watching Vancouver fail to find a player that meshed well with the Sedins, or the Pens finding a winger for Crosby, it doesn’t automatically happen.

    I said it last summer, there was no guarantee there would be a fit. Unless Lucic can improve his skating, he’s not going to mesh well with McDavid.

  • Oil9744

    It think it’s funny how money can change everyone’s opinion on a player, It’s like they are paying it out of their own pocket or something, If Lucic was so bad how was he still the top producing power forward on the team this year? He still got 50 points, 7 points a head of Maroon, and it was his 1st year on a new team, some Edmonton “fans” need to really stop bashing their own players for a change, what’s next? When Maroon gets a big pay raise after next season and he puts up less points then Lucic is he the new whipping boy? Cause I gaurantee if that happens all of a sudden Maroon will be “to much money” and blah blah blah, There is still Oilers “fans” who don’t even think Russel should come back to the Oilers! Give your head a shake and wake up! Thy just had there most productive season in ELEVEN years!! The only player who was deserves to get bashed and kicked out immediately is Pouliot and yet no one cares to talk about him??? Stop looking to point the finger at every single player, especially guys who have made the TEAM better!

      • Father of the Marshalsea

        Your absolutely right, I mean considering its not like the Oilers are planning to sign new contracts for their two best players this year the cap situation you described above is very relevant to the current situation.

        • nuge2drai

          Ference, Hendricks, Grybas contracts expire now in time for Drais extension

          Faynes contract expires in time for McDavids extension.

          Eberle is replaced by JP.

          We do not have a cap situation.

      • Kr55

        Not that I don’t disagree with the general point of these comments, you should know we exceeded the cap by over 1M this year due to bonuses. Did it last year too, by ~300k I believe.

  • Samesame

    Dude scored 20 and 50. Which isn’t far off his career average. Add to that the leadership and heaviness he was meant to bring to the squad in hopes of getting this team to the playoffs.

    Unless one had unrealistic expectations, his first season was pretty much a homerun. I

  • nuge2drai

    Lucic was brought down by his teammates.

    Nuge and Ebs are terrible on the boards and their cycle game is a joke.

    Lucic Drai Khaira could be a great line next season.

      • nuge2drai

        Pitlick, Khaira and Kassian all have great speed for big men. Slep has the best release of the 3, Khaira is the better playmaker… just depends if that line needs speed or shot.

    • Father of the Marshalsea

      Your evidence for this assertion is? Lucic didn’t do too well with McDavid did he, but then again McDavid isn’t one of the dreaded 6 million dollar men. LOL

      • nuge2drai

        My evidence to this is all the memories of the plays that died on Eberle and Nuges stick this season. Lucic is great on the boards, great in front of the net and adds a dimension this team has missed for a decade.

        Need to focus on ridding ourselves of Fayne and Pouliots contracts. That 9 million can be spent elsewhere.

  • Sammy p

    The team with out Lucic would shrink in both body size as well as in heart.
    His value to the team cannot be estimated by statistics alone,he brings courage and confidence to the faint of heart.

  • Alberta Bound Edmonton

    Culture! Culture! Culture! Much more to hockey players than goals and assists and I for one was glad he was on the ice and in the dressing room for two playoff rounds given the previous 10 years

  • NoBuBlackOPS

    His first year was definitely concerning with the lack of even strength production and his low shooting %. Still to early to compare him to Dustin Browns contact I believe. He should drop 10-15lbs like maroon did last year to improve his foot speed.

    • Oilfan 80

      There are far worse players who add zero toughness on this team. Lucic is the toughest player in this league who can still play hockey. McDavid and Drai need protection. If we didn’t have Lucic on our team, guaranteed guys run those two. The fact that he can play is just a bonus. As tough or tougher than our last enforcer in Gazdic and scores fifty plus points per year. He contributed more than most players on our roster this season and so many people still complain. Makes no sense.

      • Florescent Oil Orange

        I don’t think gadzic is ever going to earn 6 mill at multi years. Lucic is a good player based on last season a touch over paid and contract is perhaps a year or two long.

        The reality is that to win in this league you need to balance good and bad contracts out.

      • Frank Rizza

        Absolutely right. He’s worth every penny in my opinion. He’s the main reason why there was almost no cheap shots after whistles in the regular season and 100% of the reason there was no cheap shots on our players when he was on the ice.

  • Mcjesuslaz

    Let’s be honest he played with 93 and 14 half or more than half the year if he had better line mates that finished and produced offence he would have had a way better year statistically. I’m not saying he drives a line but def needs better line mates.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Maybe its the other way – maybe if Nuge and Eberle weren’t saddled with Lucic, Nuge and Eberle would have scored more?

      I’m not saying that’s true, just pointing out that the narrative can be spun both ways.

      At the end of the day, Lucic got his points – how he got them was surprising (PP vs. ES).

      At the end of the day I was a disappointed with his first season as an Oiler as he needs to be more of a force at ES on a consistent basis.

      Yes, he brought some toughness and “swagger” but, frankly, he didn’t bring it on the ice consistently – he threw a couple of nice hits a game but wasn’t noticeable in a good way the majority of his shifts – poor passing in the neutral zone, many plays died with him, etc.

      With that said, it was his first year in the organization and he is still at a prime age – I expect him to have a better start to next season given some continuance.

  • CorySuppes

    Being older myself and a whole lot heavier! A simple solution for Lucic would be to lose 15-20 pounds. He looked slow out there and teamed up with that person on rockets skates makes it embarrassing. Push away the plate, it’s your only chance as we age

  • O.C.

    Why is every measurement of a player’s value measured by the number of points or attempts they have?

    Are the Oiler’s tougher to play against? Yes.
    Is the Culture better in the room? Yes.
    Did the Oil grow as a team over the regular season? Yes.
    Did the Oil show well in the playoffs, arguably the better team but for some questionable officiating in a Round 2? Yes.
    Was Lucic an important part of that? Yes.
    Could he add more next year? Yes.
    Was he a good addition? Yes.

  • Clayton

    The dismal regular season would have been forgivable if he had shown anything in the playoffs, but somehow he found a way to lower his game when it counted most! Thank goodness there are only 6 more years left for him in E-Town!

    • Samesame

      Dismal ? 23 goals and almost 55 points. What year do you think you’re in ? Those are verging on true first line winger numbers. At the very least fantastic 2nd line numbers. Plus- all the intangibles. If this wasn’t just a hater troll post, then wow do you ever need to work on your understanding of the game.

    • Clayton

      Isn’t that the problem for the Oilers…nearly $20M tied up on 3 guys that didn’t make a difference? While I agree Lucic helped improve the overall team toughness…this can be done for far less than $6M !

  • Serious Gord

    The most notable aspect of his play was its inconsistency. Some games or in parts of games he seemed engaged and he was a beast when he was.

    But in more games than not he was listless and awful – acutely bad on defense especially.

    Lucic was hired to be the experienced terrifying forward that the rest of the team could rally behind. In the final game if the year – when the team needed him most he was dreadful.

    And that – stats be damned – is what we should judge him on. And he failed.

  • Heschultzhescores

    You need to have Big Bodies that can play physical in the playoffs….that was very clear this year. It’s a big body crashing game now…and there aren’t many better than Lucic. He also is like the big-brother in the dressing room. He’s worth every penny.