Back in September before this season began, Milan Lucic talked about regaining his confidence and scoring touch, about putting a miserable and frustrating second half to his 2017-18 season with the Edmonton Oilers behind him.
“Everyone starts with a clean sheet,” Lucic told Mark Spector of Sportsnet. “Guys have had tough years for decades. It’s about how you bounce back. How you clear your mind and move forward. It’s havin’ fun again. Making the most of our opportunity. Love the game, love the sport.
“As Wayne (Gretzky) always says, it’s such a great game, and the game has given all of us so much. There’s that little kid in you, and you’ve got to find that again and come to the rink having fun. That’s one of the things I worked on more than anything.
“I struggled with my confidence last year. Just going back and watching tape of yourself making plays (helps). Carrying the puck through the neutral zone. Moving your feet with the puck in the O zone. Taking the play on your own versus waiting for everything to happen.”
WAITING ON MILAN
Despite a season in which he scored just 10-24-34 through 82 games, including a 46-game stretch in which he scored just one goal and too often looked like he’d forgotten the attributes that landed him in Edmonton as one of the NHL’s best power forwards in the first place, I fully expected Lucic to bounce back in a big way this season.
Lucic’s track record – five seasons of 20-or-more goals and 50-or-more points – and the pride he takes in his game led me to believe he would make the most of that “clean sheet. That his confidence would return. That we’d see the kind of player that prompted GM Peter Chiarelli to sign him to a seven-year contract worth $42 million as an unrestricted free agent. I’d have bet the house on it.
Here we are 13 games into this season with the Oilers playing in Washington tonight, and I haven’t seen, no matter how hard I look, any significant uptick from what we saw in the second half of last season. There’s been some better shifts here and there, sure, but in terms of something I can point to, in terms of numbers that matter, it just hasn’t been there so far.
With 1-3-4 in the 13 games he’s played, 1-2-3 of that coming on the power play, Lucic is actually behind his points-per-game pace of last season (.41) with .31 PPG. His only goal came in the first game of the season against New Jersey. He’s gone 12 games without another one, giving him two goals in his last 59 games going back to last season. Lucic’s CF% of 48.7 is the lowest of his career (he’s averaged 53.8).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, it’s early. No, Corsi isn’t the be-all and end-all of advanced stats. And, no, I don’t care about the money – it matters against the cap, but it’s not my dough and I try not to look at Lucic through that lens. That said, I haven’t seen the return of the player I expected to put last season behind him – productive, robust, confident and get the hell out of my way or I’ll break your face. That guy.
The Oilers need that version of Lucic. As much I believed we’d see it, it just hasn’t happened beyond a flash here or there to this point in the season – not at even-strength, not on the power play. Just five months past his 30th birthday, I simply don’t believe the Lucic so many believed was a perfect fit for the Oilers – not the length of the contract, but the player — is gone for good. I await the return.
Prove me right, big man. Show us something.