This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 27: Milan Lucic
GP: 82 – G: 10, A: 24, PTS: 34
Milan Lucic’s 2017-18 season was nothing short of a complete disaster. He scored just 10 goals, his lowest total in a full season since his rookie year, and he had a span of 29 games between late December and early March in which he didn’t put the puck in the back of the net once.
His season was so bad that it spiralled into rumours that suggested his time in Edmonton was most certainly done. It was reported that the Oilers wanted to move on from Lucic and that Lucic, likewise, wanted to move on from the Oilers. A trade seemed inevitable after just two seasons into a mammoth seven-year contract. But nothing happened. The draft and free agent frenzy came and went and now it’s the middle of the summer and Lucic is talking about how excited he is to return to the Oilers for a rebound season.
I don’t think there’s too much need to dive into an extreme amount of detail to explain Lucic’s 2017-18 season. We know it wasn’t good, he knows it wasn’t good, the Oilers know it wasn’t good. Lucic said that he likes to have a “prove people wrong” kind of mentality. That’s a good thing, because, after last year, he’s got a lot to prove.
Lucic, as I mentioned, scored just 10 goals last year. It’s one thing that he scored just 10 goals under the expectations of a $6 million annual contract, it’s another that he only managed to score 10 goals with the favourable ice time he was given. Lucic played 419:31 even strength minutes with Connor McDavid and frequently saw time on Edmonton’s power play. The contract is obviously already an anchor, but the Oilers need players to be scoring goals when they’re being given those premium minutes.
Much has been said about whether or not Lucic can continue to play effectively at this level. I think everyone knew that when he inked that seven-year deal it would eventually end up looking bad. That said, I don’t think anyone assumed it would look bad after just a couple of years. The league, of course, has gotten a lot faster and less physical since Lucic’s heyday with the Boston Bruins. But still, Lucic was an effective contributor on the Oilers in 2016-17, so it isn’t like the landscape of the league shifted so dramatically over the course of one summer that he completely fell off a cliff just like that.
When listening to Lucic on Barstool’s Spittin’ Chicklets Podcast, it’s pretty clear a lot of his issues were mental.
“For me it’s just mentally having fun going to the rink again and mentally looking forward to the challenges we face as a team and as an athlete every single day, where I think my mindset got very negative last year. So I was almost my own worst enemy, where this year I’m just going in with a happy, healthier mindset. I think that’ll help me get back to the player I am and I think when you’re playing with the best player in the world, you know, it gives you a vote of confidence to try and step up and not let him down. I think we’re all feeling that and we all had fun in the 2016-17 season so we want to get back to being that team and winning on a nightly basis..”
He was basically the poster boy for everything that went wrong with the Oilers last season. He looked lost on the ice, lacking the swagger that made him a feared force in the league for years, and the play frequently died on his stick. There were games where he’d come out like a locomotive in the first couple shifts, but then he’d bobble the puck in front of the net, and he was invisible for the rest of the game.
What the Oilers are going to need to do with Lucic is start from scratch. They need to forget about the $6 million annual deal and where that contract suggests he should exist in the lineup. Based on his 2017-18 results, Lucic can’t be spoonfed top-six minutes and power play time. He has to start lower on the depth chart and prove that he can still be a productive offensive contributor in the NHL.
At the very least, if he isn’t in a high-pressure role to contribute offensively, he can do what he knows he can do well, which is skate around and be an intimidating physical presence in a bottom-six role. That’s a great opportunity to prove everyone wrong, right?
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