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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What about Milan?

I’ve always had a preference for players who bring a combination of skill and toughness and who can beat you on the scoreboard and in the alley. I’m not talking about sluggos, but hard-nosed players who find a way to prevail no matter how you want to play it. Guys willing and able to do whatever it takes, be it scoring a big goal or knocking somebody’s teeth down their throat.

At the top end, I’m talking about guys like Mark Messier and Cam Neely or, for the fossils in the crowd like me, Gordie Howe. For my money, Mr. Hockey was the best of the bunch. There’s only a handful of players cut from that cloth in the league at any one time, and I can’t think of any others who have been as skilled and scary as those three aforementioned HHOF guys.

Milan Lucic does not belong in that tier — not close — but he can bring the nasty and intangibles that come with it to go with the ability to score 25 goals and get 55 points a year. It’s no surprise, then, I really liked the acquisition of Lucic by the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2016. I actually said I loved it, even if the seven-year contract at $42 million was a year or two too long in my mind. Even so, after so many years of watching other teams push the Oilers around and take their lunch money, I thought he’d be the perfect complement to Connor McDavid and the rest,

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After 82 regular season games last season and 13 more in the playoffs, here we are seven games into 2017-18 with the Oilers shuffling along at 2-5-0 and I’m still waiting for Lucic to provide the impact and the big bang I thought he would. This is my kind of player, but for me, Lucic has only been OK since signing that deal. Some fans would say I’m being generous in that assessment. Call me underwhelmed. I expect more from him. You?

THERE’S GOT TO BE MORE

Oct 12, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) and Calgary Flames defensemen Deryk Engelland (29) fight during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

If you polled fans across the NHL at the start of last season and asked them to name the top three power forwards in the game, I bet Lucic would have been in virtually everybody’s top three. While big No. 27 finished about where you’d expect in terms of overall production based on his career numbers with 23-27-50, I can’t remember more than a handful of games where I thought he was markedly better than just OK.

While Lucic was off the charts in terms of career-highs on the power play, scoring 12-13-25, he was less than overwhelming at even-strength, with 11-14-25. His time alongside McDavid didn’t last long. In the playoffs, Lucic was again mostly lukewarm, save for a game or two, with 2-4-6. This from a player who had more playoff experience than anybody else on the roster. Numbers aside, how often did Lucic grab a game by the scruff of the neck?

The Oilers raised the bar by going two rounds deep in the playoffs last spring after a decade of nothingness. I expected Lucic, having had a season to settle in here, to lead the way at the front of a more confident, experienced group right off the hop to start this season. I expected he would be a notch more impactful than he was a year ago and that we’d see more of the swagger he talked about when he first arrived. Remember what Lucic said?

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“I can tell you from an opponent’s standpoint, you were never scared or intimidated heading into a game against the Oilers,” Lucic said after signing his deal. “That’s something we all have to change as a group. That attitude, that swagger, you have to build it as a team. You’ve got to have the right kind of cockiness, knowing you can win every game. You can’t be arrogant, but … be a harder team to play against. Wave after wave, shift after shift. That’s how the process of being a harder team to play against starts.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Lucic should consistently be at the front of the line when it comes to the process of making the Oilers a harder team to play against. That’s not to say this lousy start falls on him, but at his pay grade and with his experience and ability, Lucic has to take a little more rope than lesser players and move things along. He’s been that guy before. That’s what the Oilers are paying for.

At 29, Lucic should have a few good years left in him. I think he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being. Even in his early 20s, Lucic wasn’t fleet of foot, but he was always quick enough to get there and mean and skilled enough to make something happen when he did. We’ve seen some flashes of that, but from where I sit not nearly enough of them. We’re in year two of that big deal he signed, not year six.

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Get after it, big man.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  



  • TruthHurts98

    I think the game has gotten much faster and younger this season. Lucic looks even slower this year, maybe it’s the combination of the game being faster and him getting older. He’s not crashing the front of the net or hitting enough in my opinion. There are ways to make up for being slower, but he’s a big part of the problem on offense. He has chemistry with Leon and maybe he finds it when he gets back. The Oilers need a RW for Connor so Leon can centre a line with Looch. If that happens I think they start scoring more and become tougher to play against.

  • Oil_Thick

    I loved it when it happened, but I hadn’t watched him play that closely before coming to the Oilers and I wonder if he has always appeared so off balance. He seems to be holding onto the puck more this year and making more happen, but it’s painful watching him try to keep up with the rush.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Yes, Lucic’s boxcars at the end of last year were in line with historical norms however its tough to argue that his overall game and presence wasn’t a bit of a disapointement.

    Yes, he added to the team toughness and the swagger, however, he showed a distinct lack of speed and a distinct lack of skill. It was shocking to see so many mistakes that veterans should not be making. Giveaways in all three zones, inability to complete simple passes and the play ending with Lucic consistantly. He just seemed to be “off” last year.

    The hope was that we was just settling in and would be a more material contributor this year and, while he looks to be a bit faster and is playing better, its still not up to expectations. The play is still dying with him, he still is showing the inability to make skilled plays and even complete simple passes in the neutral zone.

    I’m not sure what it is – maybe the game has just got too fast for him – but I’m starting to think that what we are seeing now is what we are going to get and, frankly, he is playing like a 3LW not a top 6LW and, unless he improves, he needs to be moved to the bottom six notwithstanding his salary.

  • camdog

    Fists that are used to slug it out, begin to get tired a little earlier in life than fists used to handle the puck. It’s not the big man’s skating that concerns me as much as his puck movement, it’s not nearly as good as it was earlier in his career.

  • PleaseWinOilers

    The NHL is heading towards an age of speed and the Oilers acquired pretty much the antithesis of it with a few players and those that do have speed don’t have the skill to go with it (sans McDavid of course).

    I’d argue nobody is doing well right now, not even #97. When your leading goal scorer has the same amount of goals as he had in the first game, something’s wrong.

  • BingBong

    One thing I noticed last year when we starting winning more consistently, was that we were pushing teams around, and were definitely more often the bullies than the other way around. I realize playing like that every game, for 82 games plus playoffs is impossible, but so far this year I really haven’t seen the “mean” Oilers that I saw last year, and which opened up a little more space for our skilled forwards.
    Maybe it’s just early, but I feel like Lucic should be leading the way in this regard.

  • godot10

    The foot speed is gone. I think he is “done”. He showed that he can still be effective on the power play, but at even strength, he will be a liability in the top six. Is there a position for a bottom six power play specialist earning $6 million per season on a contending team?

    • Big Nuggets

      its a bit early in the season to write him off. he isn’t even 30 yet. I am still holding out hope he has a better season than last year. Though I dont expect he will provide 6 million worth of production.

  • ScottV

    The team made a huge investment in Lucic. Maybe too big. However – they are all in and you would think that more effort could be made to surround Lucic with the players and style of play that would make the most of the situation. I really thought that McL lacked patience when he prematurely yanked Lucic off of McD’s LW. Sometimes you leave guys together and force them to figure it out – get effective. You tell McD to change some of the stuff he does to accomodate Lucic’s tendencies and style. Lucic needs a o zone possession style and McD can play that way, in his own way.
    With secondary scoring a big problem, I would put Lucic back with McD and Maroon back with either Drai or Nuge. I would prefer Drai, if we only had another decent rw option. Maroon needs a contract, so he will be motivated to produce even without being with McD. Maybe not fair but its time for some hardball. You got Lucic under producing for big bucks. You give Maroon an opportunity to over produce with McD in lieu of relative talents and end up having to pay him inflated big bucks. PC and McL have to get on the same page or you’re gonna lose Maroon anyway.
    McL’s mass shooting philosophy is all wrong for Lucic. When you shoot for the sake of shooting, you better have 5 guys who are damn good at retrieval or it’s going out of the way on a turnover. Lucic is not a labrador retriever – he’s a bulldog, that needs to operate in the o zone. He needs 4 other guys who are willing to invest in wide drives, low possession, cycling, puck protection, working the puck with d men on the points and taking it to the net – shooting, when the opportunity presents itself.

      • ScottV

        McD can lightning strike off the rush with his RW when it’s there. When it’s not really there, McD can fake a play to the net and drive to the corners with speed, to pick up support from d men at the points and from big Lucic heading to the net, or to a cycle point to support McD’s possession. McD and Drai orchestrate cycle and puck protection with Lucic as a supporter to the process, but primarily they want him net front. With the tank mostly in front commanding the attention of an opposition defender, there is more time and space operating 4 vs 4 – to work with the d men on the points, to open up high grade plays to the net – with the tank in front.
        So – the answer is McD adjusts his play away from as many lightning strikes off the rush, balancing more with a focus to o zone possession to take advantage of the tank. The most talented player in the world could make it work.

    • AJ88

      “tell McD to change some of the stuff he does”, what, slow down? This is exactly why Lucic was taken off the McD line, he cannot play that fast, physically or mentally.

      • ScottV

        Pick his spots. Fast when it makes sense. Slow to pick up additional support from guys like Lucic and d men at the points. There is power in the variance. Forgive me for trying to create a narrative that accepts the fact that we got a big high priced tank that must be utilized for a long time to come. I think you have to find a way to make it work. I don’t think enough has been done in this regard. Otherwise – I guess you just accept the dead weight. I wouldn’t.

        • camdog

          If Maroon can figure it out, there isn’t really a reason Lucic couldn’t have when he was given the opportunity. Like you said last season LD needs to centre his own line, that’s where I’d put Lucic.

          • ScottV

            I am in favor of Drai in the middle, but we need another rw to pull it off. The present candidates are not good enough – some not yet and others never will be.

        • ScottV

          I mean picture McD flying up ice with Drai on the rush but it’s fairly well covered off, so they elect to drive wide to establish low possession and allow Lucic and their d men to get into support positions. The 5 of them work the puck through cycling puck protection and use of the points. The opposition gets tired and now McD takes the puck with tremendous speed and buzzes the o zone, like Kane often does – having his way toward creating high grade scoring chances. I’m talking about utilizing speed in a varied way.

        • AJ88

          You cannot expect McD to change his game to suit a “high priced tank” as you state. Lucic needs to up his game to ensure a place in the top 6, I am sure the Oilers will give him a lot of leash due to Chia signing him. I am not sure Maroon is the best fit for McD as well, but at this time he makes the most sense to play on the wing. I also think Drai has to be the other winger for the time being, McD and Drai work well together and the Oilers have to get some consistent scoring going. I think Yamamoto playing with McD is a future possibility as has shown for a 19 year old, that he can think the game on a high scale.

          • ScottV

            McD is your captain. You have made him a multi millionaire. You have a big problem on your hands. Yes – you can ask for his best effort to see if something like this can be made to work. I believe he could pull it off and still be at the top of NHL scoring. He’s that good.

  • Oilerz4life

    Lucic has a fat, bloated contract. If the Oilers don’t regret it now, they certainly will in the latter half of his contract, ie: typical Chiarelli, Boston Bruins etc. etc.

  • P0pcan

    I still like Lucic the problem is the team as a whole has not played physical enough Lucic is on his game when he playing the body and the team feed off that energy but so far this season we have played soft hockey
    That has to change

  • Oiler Al

    Robin, an excellent and exacting write up on the player.Also agree with Pouzars ponts of view.The mishandling of the puck drives me insane!This is the NHL not a beer Lg.

  • RJ

    You know what softens the blow of Lucic being disappointing? Maroon has been great as the power forward playing with McDavid. But if they lose him in the off-season for cap reasons, then Lucic is doubly disappointing.

  • Big Nuggets

    Maroon showed instant chemistry with McDavid which made it silly to try to force Lucic onto the line. I believe Lucic played alot with Krejci in Boston, who is a great playmaking center and underrated offensively. I am a Nuge supporter but I dont think he has the offensive tricks that Krejci has. Thus its unlikely Lucic will have the same production as in Boston.

  • Harry2

    The game vs Philly was Lucic’s best of the year. He was all over the place. However he is not a skilled guy so it wasnt as noticeable as say, game 1 McD vs Flames. MacLellan and Chiarelli need to find the right line mates for him. I think next year Lucic-LD-JP will be a great line for the Oilers.

  • Spoils

    remember that one game where he scored 3 goals, won a fight, and more? remember that game sammy snowpants got 8 points.

    I too am hopeful Leon and Looch can find a rhythm, but I’ve actually felt like we have at least 2 dominant lines with RNH and Looch and Strome. By my eye, he has been OK.

    The real problem right now (besides sloppy D and subCam) is this team needs a 3 line attack. Every cup winner for the last 15 odd years has had one of two things – stud D or 3 line attack.

    we won’t have a dominant stud D playing half the game, so PC needs to go out and get more scoring wingers so we can have our top 3 lines be dangerous.

    Maroon – McDavid – ???
    Lucic – Draisaitl – ???
    ??? – RNH ???
    Slepy/Cag – Letestu – Kassian

  • Devil’s Advocate Time: First, Lucic and Nuge are currently tied for points. Apples and oranges? Maybe. But we’re talking about two players who are arguably over-paid. Only one of them was drafted first overall. One was signed to add some grit and vinegar while chipping in a few goals…along with providing leadership to a team of fuzzy-cheeked kids.

    Did you see Looch in that Chicago game? He did exactly what we needed him to do. He hit, he moved, he actually skated. And he did all this AFTER basically reiterating the fact that all of the boys, the big-name players, had to step up. And he did.

    Will he be able to do that every game? Oh, heavens, no. Will he make the odd ill-conceived pass leading to a turnover? You betcha. But it’s leadership. It’s saying something and then delivering. That’s what this team, especially the youngsters, need to see: walking the walk.

  • btrain

    Lucic is probably not far off from what he has always been, we just get to see the flaws on a regular basis now and truth be told, all players have flaws, especially when you start to focus on them as a/the problem. Being over exposed as a fan of one team leaves us very biased for good and for bad. So our impression of Lucic based on a tiny fraction of largely positive exposures over his career pre-Edmonton, get a little altered once we start watching him night in night out and actually watch the 55+ games he doesn’t score and the 75 plus games he doesn’t fight. Don’t get me wrong, I do expect a bit more from 27, but he is scoring about as much as he usually does (save the 5×5 argument), as an established NHL the most fights he had in a season was 7 (had 6 last year), he threw 2.1 hits/game over 647 games before becoming an Oiler (2.5/game as an Oiler). I am not that concerned about Lucic right now. There are bigger problems to worry about on the right side of the ice.

    • flamesburn89

      Along with Blake Wheeler, Wayne Simmonds, Jamie Benn, Jeff Carter, Alex Ovechkin. Pretty sure people would rather have any of those guys over Lucic. Lucic is a decent power forward, but he is not the kind of guy that can take over games like Ovechkin, Wheeler, Laine, or Getzlaf. And quite frankly, he hasn’t been that kind of player in years, probably since the Bruins cup win in 2011.

  • TKB2677

    I guess the question I would have for people when it comes to Lucic is what was your expectations for him?

    While I thought the number of years were too much I realized you weren’t getting him to come on a short term deal. I liked him as a player and felt the Oilers needed a guy like him to fix the culture of the room and change the attitude and perception of the team. I thought he had a big impact on the turn around of the Oilers last year.

    So my expectations for Lucic going into last year were as follows:
    – Be a leader and voice in the room. – He was immediately made and assistant captain. The media talks to Lucic all the time and McDavid credited Lucic as being one of the main guys that helped him take over as captain. So that’s a check.
    – Bring a nasty attitude to the team both on and off the ice. – The Oilers are considered the toughest team in the league. They play with WAY more edge. They stand up for one another now, when the small guys like Nuge mix it up. The culture in that room is way different. So check on that.
    – I expected him to get into the occasional scrap. – Most teams won’t challenge him but he got into a few scraps last year and one so far this year. So check on that.
    – Be a physical presence- He had over 200 hits last year. He has 22 hits in 7 games this year. SO check on that.
    – Production wise. He’s been a 20-25 goal, 50+ pt guy for his career. Last year he had 23 goals 50 pts. So right in his career average.

    So for me, while you can always want more that sentiment can apply too all players, not just Lucic. But in reality, he has done what he was brought in to do which is be a vet leader who hits, occasionally fights when someone will actually go with him, be in your top 6, is mean and nasty, his skating isn’t the best but he goes to the net, screens the goalie, digs in the corners and scores 20+ goals and 50+ pts. I expect that at the end of the year provided he stays healthy, he will do all of what I said. Production wise, he will have over 200 hits, score 20ish goals, 50 pts. I say that because that is what he as done for the majority of his career. So I’d be curious to know what others expect of him or any player. If a player plays his usual game and ends up with his usual numbers, isn’t that good enough?

  • Rama Lama

    It’s not that Lucic is slow……..it’s just that McDavid is too fast for a complimentary style of play. Lucic would be better served playing along side Leon someone who processes the game in a similar fashion…….more of a cycle type of player.

    McDavid needs someone who can skate, react and think the game at high speed. The closest player we had to that was Taylor Hall……..Kailer may be able to process the game eventually at McDavid’s speed but he is fresh and needs time to adjust. I would say there are not too many players that will be able to find chemistry with CM because he is just too fast.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I count 3 times last season where Looch was a big factor.

    Remember when he buried Auston Watson behind the net? He drew a penalty and then tied it up on the power play. Sure Edmonton lost 3-2 in the shootout to Nashville, but without Lucic doing that, Edmonton probably wouldn’t have gotten the equalizer. What about his natural hat-trick to propel Edmonton to a 4-2 win over San Jose?

    Yes, Lucic probably didn’t do enough last season, but I was pretty happy with his play. And hey, 50 points is still pretty good, AM I RIGHT BOYS!?